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If you have any questions regarding sexual abuse prevention in schools, contact one of our attorneys at (203) 221-3100.

Sexual Abuse Prevention in Schools

Back in 2019, the State of Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) issued a letter presenting significant initial recommendations aimed at preventing child sexual abuse in public schools. The OCA had been commissioned in June 2019 to conduct an independent external review of the child sexual abuse prevention policies and procedures of a local board of education.

This request followed the arrest of several public school employees for sexual assault and failure to report suspected abuse or neglect. A particular concern highlighted after these arrests was that two school employees had been hired despite prior felony convictions. While the letter was tailored to address the specific circumstances of a single board of education, its insights offer valuable guidance for local and regional boards of education throughout the state on preventing child sexual abuse and fostering positive school environments.

What is the role of the OCA?

The OCA is responsible for overseeing and assessing both public and private agencies entrusted with safeguarding children, empowered with extensive investigative authority to fulfill its duties. From June to October 2019, the OCA conducted a thorough examination of multiple board of education policies concerning prevention of child sexual abuse, encompassing areas such as Title IX adherence, mandated reporting protocols, and hiring practices. Although the OCA’s review remains ongoing, it has already provided initial recommendations aimed at assisting the board of education in enhancing prevention measures and improving responses to reported cases of child sexual abuse.

Prevention Policy Revisions

The OCA initially suggested revising the board of education’s sexual abuse prevention policies to establish a comprehensive strategy for safeguarding students. Key recommendations included implementing stricter guidelines for student-staff interactions, such as limiting closed-door meetings and after-hours activities, and requiring chaperones for off-site trips.

They also proposed regulations on electronic communications between students and staff, alongside a progressive disciplinary system for staff who breach child sexual abuse policies. Additionally, the OCA advocated for tailored protections for particularly vulnerable student groups like those with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Lastly, they emphasized the importance of ongoing data collection to assess the effectiveness of these new policies.

Training and Hiring School Employees

Regarding school employee training, the OCA stressed that merely reviewing federal and state mandated reporting laws is insufficient. They recommended additional training on various topics, including the identification of “grooming behaviors” to effectively prevent child sexual abuse. The OCA also advised training for students, families, and board of education members to ensure awareness of their Title IX rights and responsibilities. They encouraged establishing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with local law enforcement and child welfare agencies to clarify and coordinate Title IX investigations and activities.

Furthermore, the OCA provided guidelines for boards of education to enhance practices related to the hiring, training, and supervision of certified and temporary school employees. They emphasized compliance with background check laws and suggested regular audits of hiring practices. They also supported policies that minimize one-on-one interactions between students and staff, especially for vulnerable student groups.

What does this mean for schools?

It’s important to highlight that even prior to receiving the OCA letter, the board of education had already taken proactive measures to address and respond to reported incidents of child sexual abuse. These efforts included conducting a thorough internal review of their policies and procedures for preventing child sexual abuse, auditing their current hiring practices, implementing a complaint reporting feature on the school district website, and launching a mobile phone application that allows students to report concerns about abuse and neglect anonymously.

Local and regional boards of education are strongly encouraged to take proactive steps by reviewing their own policies and procedures for preventing child sexual abuse and considering adopting the preliminary recommendations from the OCA. Whether a school district has encountered few or numerous instances of child sexual abuse, it is crucial to establish comprehensive policies and procedures to prevent such abuse. This not only helps minimize legal liability for the district but, more importantly, ensures a safe and supportive school environment for all students.

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

Our firm in Westport, Connecticut serves clients with legal assistance all over the state, including the towns of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge. In addition to assisting clients in Connecticut, our firm handles education law matters in New York as well.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to an attorney about a legal matter, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@Mayalaw.com to schedule a free initial consultation today.