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Colo. Teachers Rush To Report Abuse Charges

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The indictment of five Jefferson County, Colo., educators for failing to report suspected sexual abuse has prompted a flood of telephone calls to the county social-services agency from school employees anxious to avoid the same fate.

Social-service administrators said so many reports of child abuse have been registered in recent weeks that they met last week with local principals to offer new guidance on reporting requirements.

The barrage of reports started in December, after a local principal, an assistant principal, and three counselors were indicted for failing to promptly report that a teacher had been accused of sexually assaulting a male student.

The educators--Principal Merle Wicklund and Assistant Principal Patrick Dougherty, both of Jefferson County High School, and Paul Johnson, Larry Longwell, and Mark McGrath, all counselors in the school system--face misdemeanor charges.

They are among only a handful of school officials to be charged under a state law requiring such employees to promptly report suspected child abuse.

Detective Russell Boatwright of the Arvada, Colo., police department, which investigated the cases, said the educators had waited about three months before reporting that a student had accused a former teacher, Michael Teubner, of sexual abuse.

In that time, police said, Mr. Teubner allegedly abused another boy. He has been charged with a total of 17 felony charges of sexual abuse involving 10 boys, some of whom were students.

Mr. Boatwright said the educators had put off notifying authorities because of "credibility problems" with both the student victim and the victim's girlfriend, who first alerted school officials to the incident. He also said the victim initially refused to admit that he had been sexually abused.

Ruling for Florida Educators

In a separate case, a Florida appeals court has said the state's department of health and rehabilitative services violated the rights of three school administrators when it branded them as child abusers without first giving them a proper hearing.

The Jan. 24 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Lakeland struck a blow to the agency's policy of compiling a confidential registry of suspected child abusers. The agency determines on its own whether a name can be added to the list. The targets of the abuse complaints can contest that decision only after their names appear on the list.

The case involved two principals and an assistant principal who were added to the registry in 1987 after they paddled some students hard enough to bruise their buttocks. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1989.)

The educators--Paul Rich, Martha Hood, and Rodney Hollinger--were later exonerated of the charges.

Their lawyer said the educators had been unfairly stigmatized, in part, because the registry is reviewed whenever anyone in the state seeks to adopt a child or apply for a job, a transfer, or a promotion that involves working with children.

The ruling upheld previous, separate rulings in the cases by trial courts in two counties.--dv

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