The Prosecutor's Office in Elkhart County, Indiana, has declined to proceed against three teachers who may have known about and failed to report potential sexual abuse by another teacher. That's the good news. The bad news is that, after reading the prosecutor's statement, I still can't figure out what the three teachers did wrong to warrant an investigation in the first place.
Indiana law requires anyone with "reason to believe" abuse has occurred to make an immediate oral report to child protective services or law enforcement. The prosecutor's press release noted that a "strict interpretation" of the law would require anyone with even passing suspicions of the situation to make a separate report. "Given the number of school teachers and administrators that become aware of these types of allegations, a strict interpretation of that law would result in multiple reports of the same event as every person with knowledge – whether direct or indirect – would have the same responsibility. As a general practice, education professionals immediately report the information to their administrators and a call to DCS or police is placed while they are together."
The prosecutor does not condemn that general practice, apparently realizing that numerous reports of the same event simply clog up the system to no good end. In this case, the school removed the offending teacher from his duties and reported the allegations within an hour of receiving them. Furthermore, according to the prosecutor, "[T]hat same teacher contacted DCS later in the day and made a formal report, notwithstanding the fact that a report had already been made."
Given all of those facts, I cannot see why anyone decided to investigate any other teachers. Certainly there are not facts listed that explain how these investigations serve the law's stated purpose to prevent child abuse. Perhaps there are other facts not included in the article, or perhaps law enforcement is simply emphasizing its prerogatives under the law. Either way, this incident serves as yet another cautionary tale for youth serving organizations who may find themselves at the mercy of strict interpretations of their state's mandated reporter laws.