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'Mandated Reporter' Law Lacks Common Sense

As if teachers don't already have enough responsibilities, they are required by law to report anything that even remotely suggests child abuse, maltreatment or neglect ("Family of Boy Who Wears Dresses Sues Education Department," The New York Times, Aug. 30).  I've written before about the infamous McMartin Preschool case, which was the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history.  Perhaps because of its notoriety, teachers too quickly report what does not pass the reasonability test.

I'm referring now to the lawsuit filed by the parents of a five-year-old boy named Leo with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.  The suit contends that officials at Leo's school in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn reported the boy's mother on suspicion of child abuse.  They did so because the toddler made a comment about his genitals.  The Department of Education said that school employees have no choice. In other words, professional judgment means nothing.  Teachers are merely robots who are not allowed to take into consideration the context in which students make comments.

The suit will likely be played up because Leo doesn't act in gender-conforming ways.  Although the state said that the charges against Leo's mother were "unfounded," a record of the complaint against her will remain on file with the state for ten years.  That means she will have to answer yes if she is asked if she has ever been accused of child abuse.  The operative word is "accused" - not convicted.  I say it's time to let teachers use common sense, coupled with professional judgment. Anyone who thinks I exaggerate needs to consider what happened to a mother in Georgia when her daughter was spotted with a tattoo ("In the Clink Over Ink, New York Daily News, Aug. 30).

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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