FEDERAL AGENCIES CAN BETTER SUPPORT STATES IN SEXUAL ABUSE

SENATE BILL REPORT SJM 8006 As of January 30, 2015

Brief Description: Requesting Congress, the President, and the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice to take action to implement the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office concerning efforts to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel and sexual abuse between peers.

Sponsors: Senators Kohl-Welles, Litzow, McAuliffe, Rolfes, Dammeier, Keiser, Darneille and Frockt.

Brief History: Committee Activity: Early Learning & K-12 Education: 2/02/15.

SENATE COMMITTEE ON EARLY LEARNING & K-12 EDUCATION Staff: Ailey Kato (786-7434)

Background: In 2014 the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report titled “Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel.” The report recommended that the United States Department of Education collaborate with the United States Departments of Health and Human Services and Justice to compile and disseminate information to states; identify a way to track the prevalence of sexual abuse; and clarify and disseminate information on how Title IX applies to personnel-to-student sexual abuse in the K–12 setting. Since the report, the Department of Education has implemented the recommendation to clarify and disseminate information on how Title IX applies to personnel-to-student sexual abuse in the K–12 setting.

Summary of Bill: A memorial must be sent to the President of the United States, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senate and House of Representatives, Secretary of the Department of Education, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, United States Attorney General, and the United States GAO. The memorial asks Congress, the President, and the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice to take action to support and implement the recommendations of the GAO to address personnel-to-student sexual abuse and to continue to address peer-topeer sexual abuse.

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

Appropriation: None.
Fiscal Note: Not requested. Committee/Commission/Task
Force Created: No.

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[Rep. George Miller of California says a new GAO report points out important gaps in the nation’s systems for reporting child abuse by school personnel. By Gil Aegerter and Joel Seidman, NBC News Jan 29, 2014]

“Sexual abuse of children by teachers or other public school employees is likely underestimated because of a patchwork reporting system and involvement of numerous local, state and federal agencies in investigating such claims, according to a new government report obtained exclusively by NBC News.”

“The report by the Government Accountability Office, released Thursday, raises numerous questions about how closely public schools are following federal requirements for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse allegations or suspicions involving the public school employees who oversee the 50 million children enrolled in the nation’s public K-12 schools. The report also raises doubts about the accuracy of the data on the scope of the problem.

“While Education, HHS and Justice all have data systems that capture information from state and local entities about child abuse, none capture(s) the extent of sexual abuse and misconduct perpetrated by public K-12 school personnel,” the report said.

“One key issue is who receives reports from educators. Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, each state is required to have a law for mandatory reporting requirements, along with procedures for screening and investigating reports. Most states require that allegations be reported to a state or local child protection service, the GAO report said, while about two-thirds designated law enforcement (there was overlap in the two categories).

“I was quite stunned by the fact that there’s still several states that don’t have that requirement to report to law enforcement,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who requested the report. “They report to each other but that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. It may in fact lead to problems.”

“Many school districts believe they just have a need to report to their school principal, to the superintendent of the school,” Miller told NBC News. “They don’t recognize that under state law, where they have the laws, they have an obligation to report this to law enforcement officials.”

“The GAO report found that the confusion involved not only state laws but also the reporting requirements under Title IX, part of the federal education law that prohibits sex discrimination — including sexual harassment — in federally funded education programs. GAO investigators said they also found that most states do not require training of educators on sexual abuse, even though experts say it’s critical to preventing abuse.

The report says the federal government, led by the education secretary, should:

• Develop comprehensive materials for states, districts and schools that outline steps to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel.
• Identify mechanisms to better track and analyze the prevalence of child sexual abuse by school personnel through existing federal data collection systems.
• Clarify responsibilities of personnel in public K-12 schools under Title IX.

In a letter responding to the GAO, the Education Department said it:
• Was “taking action to revise its Adult Sexual Misconduct training module … to target a wider audience, including school volunteers.”
• Would “explore methods to track and analyze the prevalence of child sexual abuse by school personnel.”
• Would make clear that Title IX applies to sexual harassment at K-12 schools and prohibits sexual harassment of students by school employees.

The department also said “it is vital that all states have a policy requiring background checks of all adults working with students.”
Neither the Justice Department nor Health and Human Services provided formal responses to the GAO.
[Reporting of school sexual abuse plagued by confusion, spotty data, GAO says
Wednesday Jan 29, 2014]

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CHILD WELFARE:

“Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel
GAO-14-42: Published: Jan 27, 2014. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2014.

What GAO Found

“To help prevent the sexual abuse of students in public K-12 schools, 46 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia surveyed by GAO required background checks of applicants–such as teachers or bus drivers–seeking public school employment; however, the methods and sources varied widely. Forty-two states established professional standards or codes of conduct for school personnel, and 22 of those included information on appropriate boundaries between personnel and students. Although experts view awareness and prevention training on sexual abuse and misconduct as another key prevention tool, only 18 states reported in the survey that they require school districts to provide this training. However, two of six districts GAO visited provided training to school personnel, volunteers, and students in response to prior allegations of sexual misconduct by school personnel. These trainings covered a variety of topics, including recognizing the signs of abuse and misconduct.

“According to GAO’s survey, 46 states have laws that require school personnel to report child sexual abuse and designate the agency that investigates reports (local law enforcement and/or child protective services (CPS)), and 43 establish penalties for not reporting. In addition, school districts may have their own policies, which can sometimes create challenges. For example, three of the six school districts GAO visited have policies requiring suspected sexual abuse or misconduct to be reported to school administrators. Local investigative officials reported that such policies can be confusing, as they imply reports should only be made to school officials. This can result in a failure to report to the proper law enforcement or CPS authorities and interfere with investigations. For example, in one case study GAO reviewed, administrators pled guilty to failure to report suspected sexual abuse of a student by a teacher, who was later convicted of ten counts of abuse. Further, state and local officials told GAO that because different agencies can be involved with investigating reports of alleged child sexual abuse or misconduct for different reasons, each of the agencies’ particular goals may lead to potential interference with another agency’s investigation. In three of the four states GAO visited, law enforcement and CPS had developed methods, such as memorandums of understanding, to minimize this potential conflict and share information and expertise to resolve cases.

“Relevant programs at the Departments of Education (Education), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice (Justice) have supported state and local efforts to address sexual abuse by school personnel through limited training, guidance on boundary setting, and funding for collaboration among entities responding to allegations. Federal internal controls state that agencies should ensure there are adequate means of communicating with and obtaining information from external stakeholders who have a significant impact on agency goals. Yet, more than 30 of the states that GAO surveyed were not aware of available federal resources. No single agency is leading this effort, and coordination among federal agencies to leverage their resources and disseminate information to assist state and local efforts is limited. Further, the prevalence of this type of abuse is not known. Although several federal agencies collect related data, none systematically identify the extent of sexual abuse by school personnel, and efforts to address this data gap are limited. Finally, Education’s regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) require schools to have procedures in place to protect students from sexual abuse by school personnel. However, local officials told GAO that Education’s guidance was limited and they are unsure about how to apply these requirements to cases of adult-to-student sexual abuse in K-12 settings.

Why GAO Did This Study

“While all child abuse is troubling, sexual abuse by school personnel raises particular concerns because of the trust placed in schools. Federal laws prohibit sexual harassment, including sexual abuse, in federallyfunded education programs and set minimum standards for state laws on reporting suspected child abuse.

“GAO was asked to review efforts to address child sexual abuse by school personnel. GAO examined: (1) states’ and school districts’ steps to help prevent such abuse, (2) their reporting requirements and approaches for investigating allegations, and (3) federal agencies’ efforts to address such abuse. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; surveyed state educational agencies in 50 states and the District of Columbia; and visited four states and six of their districts. States were selected based on actions taken in response to past allegations of abuse. GAO interviewed state agencies, school districts, local law enforcement and child protective service agencies, and experts identified through a systematic literature review.

What GAO Recommends

“GAO recommends that Education collaborate with HHS and Justice to compile and disseminate information to states; identify a way to track the prevalence of sexual abuse; and that Education also clarify and disseminate information on how Title IX applies to personnel-to-student sexual abuse in the K-12 setting. Education and HHS provided technical comments and Education concurred with our recommendations. Justice had no comments.

For more information, contact Kay Brown at (202) 512-7215 or brownke@gao.gov.
[Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel
GAO-14-42: Published: Jan 27, 2014. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2014.]

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