Changes to the state child abuse law recommended in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal could pass on additional costs to school districts throughout the Commonwealth.
A legislative committee gathered to review the state child abuse law released its report last week. According to the Associated Press, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection recommended rewriting state law, redefining what constitutes child abuse and expanding the list of people who are required to report suspected abuse.
What could that mean for the Warren County School District?
"Some of them will be tough not to see legislative action. (The recommendations) will end up having cost relationships and impacting us to some degree, I believe," board member and Finance Committee Chairman John Grant said to the board on Monday night.
Grant outlined several recommendations that may have an impact on the WCSD.
He said the report calls for "movement toward oversight on professional educators." Many employees enter into a confidential agreement when they leave the district that outlines why they left, in some cases including mention of inappropriate behavior. Those agreements will be banned, according to Grant.
The report also cites truancy as a source of more active juvenile courts, which lead to increased county costs for placement in juvenile institutions, and provisions in the proposal "want schools to develop aggressive programs to get these people into classrooms," Grant said. "Is it the right thing to do? How do we manage (the inappropriate behaviors in school)?"
He explained that there is a "economic push from the folks in county resources. They will push that as a cost to the school district to manage some of the societal behavior that shouldn't be in schools."
The Associated Press reported that the task force also called for enlarging the pool of people labeled as perpetrators. Task force members said such a change would get more children help from county agencies, helping authorities identify more abusers, provide a more complete picture of the amount of abuse and likely lead to more criminal investigations.
Such changes will cover all volunteers, Grant said, adding that staff will "have a responsibility (to report) if they see or perceive some abuse is taking place."
The task force further outlined stiffer penalties for failing to report suspected abuse.
"Willful failure to report becomes a felony," Grant noted. "It's also a push that the responsibility to report does not go up administrative lines (but) directly to police" and other agencies.
Grant also explained that the commission is looking to increased oversight over students in cyber schools and those that are homeschooled, "want(ing) the school district of residency to oversee. I can't imagine how that is going to turn out."
The recommendations contained in the task force report are non-binding and will require legislative action to integrate into existing law.
"I believe we will see legislation affecting some of those things," said Grant. The district "will have to incorporate them into local costs. There's no way around it if it is the law of the land."