Spot checks on abuse rules dropped Teachers to get training instead


The state Department of Education, which said it would make statewide spot checks this fall to see if public school employees knew what to do if they suspected child abuse or neglect, has changed its mind.

Instead, local school systems have agreed to incorporate the subject in teacher training sessions this fall and certify to the state that they have done it, said Mary K. Albrittain, chief of pupil personnel services and drug-free schools in the State Department of Education.

The department decided last August to conduct the checks for the first time after investigators looked into the way Anne Arundel County schools handled the case of Ronald W. Price, the Northeast High School teacher convicted of having sex with students.

The investigators were horrified to find that many Anne Arundel teachers either were unaware of the law or thought they were supposed to report suspicions only to a guidance counselor or an administrator.

The law requires educators to report suspected sexual and physical abuse and neglect to the Department of Social Services and/or police, and to the principal, then follow with a written report within 48 hours.

Though teachers and administrators were aware of the allegations against Price, who was sentenced last week to 56 years in jail, none reported their suspicions.

The surveys were to be conducted in all but one -- Anne Arundel County -- of the state's 24 school systems.

But in a meeting last month with state education officials, local school superintendents convinced state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and others that "playing gotcha" would not be productive, said Ronald A. Peiffer, director of school and community outreach in the state department.

"I think the important thing is that they know," said Mrs. Albrittain.

She said that the department offered basic instructional material to school districts.

State pupil personnel workers for the first time are asking teachers and other employees about the abuse reporting requirements during regular trips to the school systems.

"We've been very impressed with the training," Mrs. Albrittain said.

But Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, said that the state Department of Education missed the point by not conducting spot checks to see how widespread ignorance of the law is.

"They won't know if other incidents went unreported. This would alert them to potential problems in other counties," she said. "Ron Price we know about. Others we don't. If it's here, it could be anywhere in the state."

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