Today in "Rick's Blog," the accusation has been made that school district staff violated state law in its handling of an alleged sexual assault on a student at Tate High School. From today's post on Rick's Blog:
"The moment the school officials were notified by a parent that a possible sexual assault, involving a 14-year-old victim, happened in a classroom at Tate High School, there were required by law to report the incident to Florida Dept. of Children and Families and law enforcement....The school and the district failed to follow the law."
As a district and a school board--we take our share of criticism in the media for various decisions we make, for property we sell (or do not sell), for how well our students do on tests, or how we stage the flag at our monthly meeting. We get criticized and second guessed ad nauseum from the peanut gallery and from our local media for many different reasons. This comes with the territory.
However, if someone alleges that we have violated a law, I take that very seriously. If involves the well-being of a child, I go to Red Alert. If things go sideways and issues end up in court--it is the School Board that gets sued. So, when I read this post in "Rick's Blog" today--I immediately asked our attorney to look into the matter and render a written opinion for the board.
Based upon the what is known about the facts of this incident at this time (and additional information is coming in still) our attorney, Donna Waters, believes that the district did not violate the statutes Rick Outzen cited in his blog post this morning. Late this afternoon, I met with our attorney and discussed this matter with her at length. I have her written opinion, and I have her permission to quote from it, however she asked that the memo not be released in its entirety at this time and she has labeled it "ATTORNEY WORK PRODUCT APPLIES - DO NOT RELEASE WITHOUT CONSULTING WITH GENERAL COUNSEL."
Rick Outzen and his attorney have requested a meeting for this coming Monday morning at 10:00AM to discuss this issue further, at which time Mrs. Waters will undoubtedly challenge these assertions from "Rick's Blog"
The important aspects of Mrs. Waters' rebuke to the allegations from today's Rick's Blog are as follows:
"As with so many issues, the answer depends a great deal on the specific facts involved in the incident. §39.201, F.S. provides that: Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare, as defined in this chapter, or that a child is in need of supervision and care … shall report such knowledge or suspicion to [DCF]. School personnel are required to give their names when making such reports, and thus can be prosecuted for failing to make a report when required. If a report is not required by law, failing to report an incident does not violate the law.
Reports are required when the following elements are met:
1. “A person knows or reasonably should suspect” – Actual knowledge is not required. If a reasonable person who has this person’s knowledge of the facts would suspect abuse or neglect, the report must be made.
2. “That a child” – For this section to apply, the alleged victim of abuse or neglect must be under the age of 18.
3. “Is abused, abandoned or neglected” – the law gives specific definitions, but in general, reporters can rely on a reasonable person’s understanding of these terms.
4. “By a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare.” – The alleged perpetrator must be a parent, caregiver or other person who has legal responsibility for the child’s welfare.
Element 4 is commonly misunderstood by the public. An assault by one child upon another is not normally a child abuse situation which must be reported to DCF. Reporting would be mandatory only if the perpetrator is a babysitter or older relative who has been left in charge of the victim’s welfare.
...This analysis does not mean that a perpetrator is not criminally liable for a child-on-child offense. § 800.04, F.S. makes it a second degree felony for any person to engage in sexual activity with a person between the ages of 12 and 16...The statute provides that neither consent, prior sexual experience of the victim nor the offender’s ignorance as to the victim’s age are defenses to the crime."
I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.