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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Changing Laws Could Lead To Confused School Districts When It Comes To Child Abuse

Pennsylvania law requires school districts train teachers and other staff members to report suspected child abuse, but those laws don't cover every aspect of the growing danger involved with potentially improper contact between district employees and the students they're charged to teach.

“Pennsylvania does not have, at this time, a state law which mandates school district have policies regarding electronic communications.  Many states do,” said Ira Weiss, Pittsburgh Public Schools solicitor.

Weiss said he thinks the policies should include a rule that requires all such contact be made on district-owned equipment. Whether because of or in spite of laws enacted following the Jerry Sandusky case, Weiss said he believes the number of high-profile accusations between school employees and students has grown.

“I think there are more cases and more of these cases get reported because… of the mandated reporting [laws],” said Weiss. “When in doubt, report. That’s our policy.”

Districts must also make sure they are protecting the teachers and other staff members who are being accused. Weiss said districts must first launch an investigation when there is an allegation, but if there is not enough evidence to proceed, those records are protected from the state’s open records laws. 

Parents of the children involved must also be brought into the investigation as soon as possible, he said.

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