Student Well-Being

Ariz. Principal Convicted Of Failing To Report Suspected Abuse

By Jessica Portner — July 12, 2000 2 min read

A Phoenix elementary school principal has pleaded guilty to criminal charges of failing to notify authorities of evidence that a student was being sexually abused by a staff member at her school.

Joanne L. Talazus, the principal of Longview Elementary School, was convicted last month under a state law that requires educators and school officials to report suspected abuse. Under a plea agreement, she will lose her teacher’s license and could serve up to six months in prison.

The educator involved in the case, Ronald Ruelas, 32, a counselor at the school, was convicted last month of numerous felony charges relating to abusing and molesting students, and was sentenced July 1 to 175 years in prison.

Though most states have laws that require educators to report suspected abuse, convictions under such laws are rare, experts say. “This isn’t something that happens frequently,” said Robert Shoop, a professor of education law at Kansas State University, who studies such cases.

Usually, the perpetrator of the abuse is the only one who is prosecuted, he said.

Often, prosecutors decide not to charge principals or other school officials because the circumstances of abuse cases are murky, he added.

“If someone comes in and says someone is harming a child, then any reasonable person would say that raises suspicions,” Mr. Shoop said. “But if there is some oblique rumor, it may not cross that threshold.”

Individuals who fail to report such crimes more often are the targets of civil cases in which parents seek damages for the emotional harm to their children, Mr. Shoop added.

No ‘Legal Ability’

In the Arizona case, prosecutors charged that Ms. Talazus had failed to inform police or child-welfare authorities of complaints from parents of two male students in 1994 that a counselor at the school had sexually abused the boys.

Arizona law mandates that educational staff members report any “immoral or unprofessional conduct” within 72 hours of becoming aware of the activity.

“In general, educators who are in charge of the care and control of young people do not have the legal ability to decide when there is legal duty to report to child protective services,” said Bill Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the Maricopa County prosecutor’s office, which handled the case against Ms. Talazus and the counselor.

Marc Budoff, Ms. Talazus’ lawyer, said last week that the principal didn’t consider the charges against the school’s counselor credible. However, Mr. Budoff said, his client now acknowledges that the information should have been reported to authorities. “My client’s error was trying to evaluate the complaint herself,” he said.

A sentencing hearing for Ms. Talazus is scheduled for July 26.

A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2000 edition of Education Week as Ariz. Principal Convicted Of Failing To Report Suspected Abuse

Events

School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Whitepaper
The Complete Guide to SEL
This guide illustrates why SEL is more important now and what you should look for when implementing a social-emotional curriculum.
Content provided by Navigate360
Student Well-Being How Educators Are Approaching Summer Learning This Year
After a difficult year, schools adjust what's best for students as they customize summer learning, enrichment, and play opportunities.
9 min read
Image of kids with backpacks running outdoors.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Cardona Releases First Wave of Aid to Help Schools Identify, Assist Homeless Students
Citing the urgency of identifying homeless students, the Education Department will release some relief aid targeted at their needs.
3 min read
Rycc Smith welcomes Montello Elementary School students as they board his bus outside the Lewiston, Maine school after the first day back in nearly a month on Jan. 21, 2021. The entire school district switched to all remote learning after an uptick in COVID-19 cases last month.
Elementary school students board a bus in Lewiston, Maine, after their first day back to in-person school in nearly a month on Jan. 21. Advocates say it has been more difficult to identify homelessness during remote learning, in part because they can't track changes in students' use of school transportation.
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal via AP
Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Post-Pandemic Communications
In this Spotlight, review lessons from other leaders, evaluate what can be done to address the situations experienced and more.