Magazine article District Administration

Physical and Sexual Abuse in Schools: A Harsh Reality Facing Your District: Districts Everywhere Can Learn a Lesson from California

Magazine article District Administration

Physical and Sexual Abuse in Schools: A Harsh Reality Facing Your District: Districts Everywhere Can Learn a Lesson from California

Article excerpt

Physical and sexual abuse in schools, once seen as an isolated local concern, is now a national issue. A Congressional report estimated that as many as 4.5 million K12 students are subject to sexual misconduct and physical or verbal abuse, with other research concluding that less than 10 percent of abusers are ever caught or identified. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report stated that schools lack a systemic approach to preventing and reporting educator sexual abuse on students, despite nearly one in 10 being subjected to this misconduct.

Sexual abuse exposure became highly publicized as the Catholic Church paid nearly $3 billion to its victims. Penn State University paid $60 million to settle the Jerry Sandusky abuse claims, and Los Angeles USD paid $30 million in settlements involving a single elementary school.

California's conundrum

Beginning in 2009, California extended the statute for filing a lawsuit for minors from age 18 to age 26 without the need to file a tort claim, with legislation pending to extend this to age 40, which significantly increases a school's liability exposures. Insurance Code Section 11583 allows for no tolling of prior statute if the district "pays for counseling" and fails to notify the victim of their right to file a claim. This means district exposures may be indefinite in some cases with limited to no statutory defenses. So, plaintiff attorneys are focused more than ever on pursuing abuse claims, with settlement and defense costs increasing dramatically.

Mandatory Reporting laws require public school employees to immediately report suspected physical or sexual abuse, whether it may have occurred on or off campus. Reporting must be made to the local police (not the school police) or child protective services.

Law enforcement and district attorneys are filing criminal actions against district employees who fail to report "reasonably suspicious" sexual abuse incidents under these laws. A principal was recently convicted for failing to report suspected abuse. Alarmingly, when she cited "lack of facts" for not reporting it, the judge said while she did what she thought was right, it was not objectively reasonable at the time. …

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