Atlanta Union Protests Teachers’ Arrests for Failing To Report Abuse

June 21, 1989 2 min read

The Atlanta Federation of Teachers is strongly protesting the arrests of two of the city’s elementary-school teachers under a rarely enforced Georgia law that requires teachers to report cases of suspected child abuse.

The union charges that the school administration failed to “protect its employees from unwarranted, unsubstantiated accusations.”

“It was inexcusable for the administrators at these schools to allow this to occur to valued school members,” said Mary Lou Romaine, the union’s president.

Police arrested Janice Flanagan of Continental Colony Elementary School and Frances Smith of Fickett Elementary School last month. A third teacher, Annie Little, is being charged with making false statements in the Continental Colony case.

According to police, Ms. Flanagan was arrested on May 8 after a 4th-grade student told a social worker that the teacher did nothing after she told the teacher that she had been abused. Police and school officials say the girl had come to school with a bloody mouth and had told Ms. Flanagan that a step-parent had hit her with a book.

The teacher said she never saw the girl injured or heard her say that she had been abused, police reported.

Ms. Smith had been charged four days earlier with failing to promptly report in March that a 10-year-old student had told her that she had been sexually abused.

The principals of the teachers’ schools declined to comment on the cases. But a spokesman for the disel10ltrict, Norman Thomas, said school administrators have stood by the teachers by providing legal assistance. The teachers were not removed from their jobs, he said.

Meanwhile, news of the arrests has prompted teachers across the state to scrutinize their students more intently for signs of mistreatment. At least one case recently reported by a teacher involved an incident that occurred in December.

“Teachers are wondering for the first time,” Ms. Romaine said, “‘Will I go to work in the morning and possi4bly face something similar for something I never even noticed?”’

In Georgia, as in most states, teachers are required to report suspected abuse.

But a state child-protective-service official said the law, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, is rarely enforced. More often, said the official, Jerry Gouge, teachers are simply “educated” about their obligation under the law.

In the cases of the Atlanta teachers, school officials said, the arrests were made following an investigation by county child-protective-service workers.--dv

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 1989 edition of Education Week as Atlanta Union Protests Teachers’ Arrests for Failing To Report Abuse