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Private Schools Have Been Getting Away With It

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

One would think that New York’s private schools would have to report suspected incidents of child abuse. However, that’s not the case. In fact, until the law changed in 2000, public schools had a loophole whereby they were only required to report incidents of child abuse that involved parents, guardians or other persons legally responsible for a child.

The 2000 law affecting public schools established a separate reporting system: Suspected cases of abuse by school personnel must be reported to local law enforcement, since the state’s Child Protective Services unit is only authorized to investigate cases involving parents and guardians.

This year, the NY Legislature is considering a bill that would include mandatory reporting by private schools as well. The bill currently being considered by lawmakers would extend this reporting mandate to private schools. Those who don’t report abuse would be subject to civil or criminal liability. It would also forbid school authorities from agreeing to withhold reports of abuse from law enforcement in exchange for the accused person’s resignation — a practice that has been widespread among private schools and has led to perpetrators being passed from school to school, according to a 2016 Boston Globe report.

In April, the elite all-girls Emma Willard School in Troy joined the dubious ranks of Horace Mann in New York City and Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut after a 96-page report revealed seven decades of abuse at the hands of faculty members.

This discrepancy in the law protected child abusers as well as the schools who employed them. It also protected the reputation of the school at the expense of child safety.

“Whenever you have a closed system — and by ‘closed’ I mean a system that operates outside the regulations everyone else is held to — you get an insular system that is basically allowed to do whatever it wants,” said Mary Pulido, executive director of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

This is common sense legislation that must be signed into law. Too many of our children have been abused as a result in gaps in the law. It’s time to change that.

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