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School board will deal with abuse suspects itself


County school officials will not get prosecutors' approval before making job assignments for school employees who have been charged with physical or sexual abuse but not yet tried, despite critics' fears that the actions could jeopardize prosecution of cases.

The school board adopted an agreement Thursday that left out a last-minute proposal from Michael D. Rexroad, chief of the State's Attorney's Circuit Court division, to require school officials to get prosecutors' consent before firing an accused school employee or returning him to the classroom while the criminal case is pending.

Although the board retained the right to fire an accused teacher or return him to the classroom while the criminal case is still pending, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said it would be "my intent not to jeopardize the [legal] process."

The interagency agreement calls for "an open line of communication" between school officials and the prosecutor assigned to child-abuse cases. It will govern how school officials, police, the state's attorney and Department of Social Services work together on cases of physical or sexual abuse.

"I don't think it is appropriate for the board to turn over to another elected official its statutory authority," said Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig, arguing against obtaining the State's Attorney's consent. She said later that she thinks the policy reflects a sense that the agency representatives "feel they can work together now."

Rexroad could not be reached for comment Friday, but said in a letter to Kendig his proposal was based on review of two documents: an Attorney General's opinion and the interagency agreement.

The Attorney General's opinion, issued in December, said that to avoid any risk of hampering prosecution of pending cases, "the school system should not seek to adjudicate a final disposition of a personnel action against an alleged child abuser . . . without the prior consent of the state's attorney."

Board member Karen B. Campbell attempted unsuccessfully to get the board to write a "consent of the State's Attorney" clause into the school system policy that sets rules for how school officials will handle accusations of child abuse or neglect against school employees.

When her motion died without a second, Campbell voted for the policy and accompanying interagency agreement, saying she was "glad we've come as far as we have."

She referred to revisions by school officials in cooperation with representatives of the other agencies and child advocates since the policy was adopted by the board in July 1991. The policy was never implemented because of the revisions and because it took about 10 months to work out the interagency agreement.

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