Decision in Ohio v. Clark avoids putting educators in law enforcement role

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Decision in Ohio v. Clark avoids putting educators in law enforcement role
NEA President: Mandatory reporting laws are there to protect abused, neglected children

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling today in Ohio v. Clark, which raised the question of whether a child’s statement to his teacher about being a victim of abuse is inadmissible in a criminal prosecution against his abuser because teachers and other educators should be considered law enforcement officials when they carry out their duty to report suspected abuse or neglect. The National Education Association filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the state’s view that educators’ valuable role as mandatory reporters and caregivers should not be compromised. In a unanimous decision, the Court agreed and ruled against putting educators in a law enforcement role.

The case stems from an incident in March 2010, when a teacher at a Head Start center in Cleveland, Ohio, noticed that one of her preschool students had what appeared to be a bloodshot and bloodstained left eye. Alarmed, the teacher consulted with a colleague and together the two educators—in their state-mandated role as reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect—submitted this information to law enforcement. Darius Clark, the boyfriend of the three year old’s mother, was soon arrested, charged and eventually convicted of felonious assault, child endangerment and domestic violence.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Lily Eskelsen García:

“We are pleased the Court recognized what educators have long understood—namely, that mandatory reporting laws aren’t about prosecuting crimes, but are there to protect abused or neglected children and to ensure those children and their families get the help and support they deserve.

“As we argued in our amicus brief, this case could have had a chilling effect on teacher-student interactions. Teachers aren’t cops. To confuse those two roles could have hampered educators’ ability to help their students. Today’s decision by the Court helps brings some clarity to this area.

“These brave Ohio educators did what was necessary to protect the safety of one of their students, just as educators across the country do in similar circumstances every day.”