N.Y.C. School Faulted in Abuse Case
A report by the New York City Board of Education concludes that the adults employed at Lisa Steinberg's school should have noticed signs of abuse on the 6-year-old, whose fatal beating in November drew national attention to the problem of child abuse.
The report, released last week by the board's inspector general, Michael P. Sofarelli, said the girl did not receive help because counselors and teachers at Public School 41 were not properly trained to recognize the signs of abuse.
Acting Schools Chancellor Charles I. Schonhaut, in response to the report's findings, said last week he would order that the district's voluntary training for school personnel on detecting child abuse be made mandatory beginning next fall.
The inspector general's office interviewed 14 people who came in4contact with Lisa while she attended school. "Lisa's disheveled appearance (hair, fingernails, and clothing) was observed by at least eight people," according to the report. "Bruises were noted on Lisa's face, forearms, and back by at least five people."
The girl's physical appearance and "excessive absences and latenesses" should have prompted school officials to report suspicions of abuse, the report said. Under board regulations, all child-abuse cases must be reported.
Joel B. Steinberg, who was raising Lisa although he had not formally adopted her, was charged with murder and child abuse in connection with the girl's death.
A felony complaint in connection with Lisa's death is pending against Hedda Nussbaum, the woman who lived with Mr. Steinberg.
"Whether Lisa Steinberg's death could have been prevented, if her physical appearance was reported, is a question that has no answer," the report said.
"The question as to whether school personnel are properly trained in the recognition of child abuse ... and what their legal obligations and responsibilities are, the answer has to be a definite no," it concluded.
The report said the training program, which would be mandatory at all levels, should include "instruction specifically focusing on eliminating the general perception among school personnel that child-abuse cases are isolated, and victims of child abuse 'do not attend my school and are never in my class."'
Mr. Schonhaut said an advisory committee of school officials, social workers, and doctors would begin this spring to develop the training course.--k.g.