Reports of alleged child abuse or neglect by school employees trigger special obligations for DCF, as well as for employers, both of which may have negative consequences.
Under Connecticut law, a school employee is defined as a teacher, substitute, teacher, school administrator or superintendent, guidance counselor, psychologist, social worker, nurse, physician, school paraprofessional, or coach employed by a local or regional school board or working in a public elementary, middle, or high school. The “school employee” classification also encompasses anyone who (1) comes into regular contact with students while performing his or her duties and (2) provides services to, or on behalf of, students enrolled in a public or private elementary, middle, or high school under contract with a local or regional school board or private school supervisory agent. Connecticut General Statutes §53a-65.
When DCF receives a report of alleged child abuse or neglect where the alleged perpetrator is a school employee, it must notify the school principal or his or her designee, unless that person is the alleged perpetrator, and the school superintendent. In accordance with Connecticut General Statutes §17a-101b(d), these individuals must then immediately inform the child’s parent or caretaker that a report was made to DCF.
DCF must provide notice to the Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDE”) when it begins the investigation. If the alleged perpetrator is a school employee who is certified, authorized, or permitted by the State Board of Education (“SBE”), DCF must also send a copy of the report to the education commissioner or her designee. Connecticut General Statutes §17a-101g(a).
Within five (5) days of the investigation’s completion, the DCF commissioner must inform the employing superintendent and education commissioner of the investigation results and supply all the records relating to the investigation. The DCF commissioner must also notify the appropriate state agency of the investigation, as well as supply relevant records if the employee is licensed or holds a certificate issued by the state or an SBE-issued permit or authorization. Connecticut General Statutes §17a-101i(a)).
Connecticut Public Act 16-67 requires education employers (e.g. boards of education, charter school governing councils, magnet schools) and their contractors to take certain steps to determine, prior to employment, whether an applicant for a position involving direct student contact has a history of child-related sexual misconduct, or child abuse or neglect.
To facilitate this process, the law imposes certain information-sharing requirements. Education employers are required to notify SDE when they receive information that applicants or current employees have been disciplined for a finding of abuse, neglect, or sexual misconduct. These employers must also provide, upon request, to any other education employer or to the SDE commissioner, information they may have about a finding of abuse, neglect, or sexual misconduct regarding someone being considered for a job as a direct employee of another education employer or a contractor. Additionally, the employer must provide, at the commissioner’s request, information about current employees who have been disciplined as a result of such findings. The act provides immunity from criminal and civil liability to SDE and any employer that provides an education employer with information about an applicant as required under this act, as long as the information supplied is not knowingly false.
Once a school employee is suspected of abuse or neglect, the State Department of Education commissioner, superintendent, and school board must then take certain actions as well. For instance, the superintendent must suspend the employee with pay in certain circumstances and notify the school board and State Department of Education of the basis for, and conditions of, the suspension.
The superintendent must suspend the employee with pay if the commissioner: (1) has reasonable cause to believe that the employee abused or neglected the child based upon the investigation results; and (2) recommends that the employee be placed on the child abuse and neglect registry.
Within 72 hours of suspending the employee, the superintendent must (1) notify the school board and the education commissioner or her representative of the reasons for and conditions of the suspension; and (2) disclose the investigation records to the board and commissioner for review of the employee’s employment or certificate, permit, or authorization status.
If the school employee holds a position that requires a certificate (e.g., teacher), the suspension remains in effect until the school board determines whether or not to terminate his or her employment contract. The superintendent must notify the education commissioner or her representative within 72 hours if the board terminates the contract or the employee resigns. The commissioner may then begin certification revocation proceedings against the employee. Connecticut General Statutes §17a-101i(a).
If you are, or may be, facing a DCF investigation, call Ashling Soares Law today at 203.529.5115, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.