District ‘clarifies’ mandatory reporting guidelines

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Christy Perry, superintendent of Salem-Keizer Public Schools, told the Keizertimes that a state law requiring teachers to mandatory report if they have reasonable cause to believe that two students under the age of 18 are having sexual contact isn’t new.

The 13 slides sent to teachers in the Salem-Keizer School District last week were a clarification from a question about mandatory reporting recently asked by a member of the community.

“That question came about so we spent quite a bit of time with many of our partners including law enforcement, department of human services and the district attorney’s office,” Perry said. “We really tried to be careful and thoughtful and really take scenarios to our partners and talk about them before we rolled this out. Really it’s just a clarification and for students it seems big, I know that, but it’s a clarification for a law that’s existed for a long time.”

The law comes from Oregon statute 163.315, which says a person is considered incapable of consenting to a sexual act if they are under 18 years of age.

“The child abuse mandatory reporting statute is the statute we live under and the definition that says a person under the age of 18 is incapable of consenting is defined in the statute as sex abuse, so you see our dilemma,” Perry said. “The remedy is about clarification to the law. We’re doing our best to interpret it the way we think it should be interpreted but what we can’t do is put our teachers at risk, because they’re mandatory reporters and they need to report sex abuse. We’re trying to protect our teachers. We’re trying to protect the safety of students and we have in some ways what people might think are conflicting laws.”

Teachers are legally required to report 24 hours, seven days a week.

“I am required to make a mandatory report 24-7, even if we are out in public in off hours and see what we would constitute as child abuse, we have to report,” Perry said.

Teachers are even obligated to report their own children.

“That’s the position the law puts educators in,” said Lillian Govus, director of communications for the district. “That’s probably not the intent of the law but it’s also not our job to guess what the intent of the law is.”

Once a teacher reports abuse, it’s up to DHS on how to proceed.

“We really worked to say to our educators that your job is just to report,” Perry said. “We don’t want them in the business of investigation because you don’t know where an investigation leads to and we want to leave that to the job of the people who are trained to do that.”

Parents weren’t notified of the changes.

“We just did the training out to teachers because we believe it’s a clarification of the law and we’re not asking teachers to go out and find out if kids are having sexual intercourse,” Perry said.

Perry understands the outcry from students, which included a change.org online petition with more than 500 signatures and a small protest at the capital on Monday.

“I actually feel bad about that and I think it goes back to the remedy: let’s either legislate a clarification or change the law,” Perry said. “We also believe it’s really important to protect kids and we also know that underage sexual activity cannot be consensual. It’s such a big and complicated problem with protecting kids, yet helping them feel safe so they have strong adults to make sure they have healthy relationships.”

The school district does mandatory training every year in August. The slides clarifying questions about mandatory reporting were added in October at a meeting between all of the administrators.

Teachers have until Nov. 15 to sign off that they’ve viewed the slides.

“We wanted to be sure we really understood the issue,” Perry said.