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Supreme Court Declines to Take Up Case on Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up a case with implications for the legal protections for teachers, school administrators, and others required under state laws to report suspected child abuse to authorities.

A coalition of education groups led by the National School Boards Association and its Ohio affiliate had urged the justices to review a federal appeals court opinion that denied qualified immunity to an administrator who had reported to state authorities her suspicions that a 17-year-old girl with an intellectual disability was being sexually abused at home.

The administrator was sued by the girl's parents, who alleged that the administrator was retaliating against them amid a dispute over the individualized education plan for the girl.

Both a federal district court and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, rejected qualified immunity for the administrator. The appeals court said the parents had established a facial case of First Amendment retaliation.

The administrator's appeal to the Supreme Court was supported in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the NSBA, the Ohio School Boards Association, and 15 other education groups.

The groups said the 6th Circuit's decision makes "mandatory reporters" of child abuse vulnerable to lawsuits by potential abusers.

"The decision imposes a Hobson's choice for mandatory reporters: either fulfill their responsibility under state law to report suspected or known abuse and risk federal litigation and potential personal liability; or fail to report and invoke the possibility of civil and criminal penalties for that failure," says the brief in Schott v. Wenk (Case No. 15-54).

The Supreme Court was giving the case a hard look, including requesting the parents to file a response to the administrator's appeal. (The high court decided a criminal case last term, Ohio v. Clark, that touched on the state's law requiring teachers and others to report suspected child abuse.)

But late last year, the parties informed the high court that they had reached a confidential settlement of the lawsuit.

The school administrator went on to ask the court to review the 6th Circuit decision anyway, but the court rarely takes up cases that no longer present a live legal dispute. 

The justices on Jan. 11 declined without comment to take up the administrator's appeal.

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