Bill would require all school employees to report child abuse to authorities

Education support professionals, coaches and anyone else employed by a school would be required to report suspected child abuse under a bill being considered by the Michigan House of Representatives.

House Bill 4493, introduced by state Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, would amend a current law that specifies who is required to report suspected child abuse directly to authorities. Kesto’s bill, which the MEA supports, would add to that list anyone employed by a public or private school. As is stands, the law only requires teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators to report cases of abuse.

“I want to make sure that other school employees — from coaches to janitors to lunchroom employees — have a legal duty to protect our children and report abuse,” Kesto said in a statement. “Faculty and administrators are already required by law to report sex crimes when they are made aware of them. This measure just extends that to all school employees so we are fully protecting our children.”

Kesto testified Wednesday before the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee that his bill was brought on by the Penn State University abuse scandal, in which at least 45 young boys were sexually abused by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky over a 15-year-period. 

“There was an issue in that case, in that the individuals who witnessed these horrendous acts did not report them to the proper authorities,” Kesto explained. Instead, witnesses only reported the abuse to their superiors, “who decided to brush it under the rug.”

MEA lobbyist Christina Canfield testified at Wednesday’s hearing that the current law requiring teachers and paraprofessionals to report suspected abuse works well, and it makes perfect sense to expand it to all who work in a school.

“It’s not that they won’t report it now,” Canfield said of school employees not currently covered under the law, “but this makes it clear, so there’s no miscommunication.”

On behalf of MEA, Canfield requested that lawmakers include a provision requiring outside contractors who work in schools — many bus drivers, food service workers and custodians who work for private companies, for example — to also report suspected abuse to authorities. 

Canfield also requested that legislators add language to the bill that would require school districts to properly notify all staff of the new reporting requirements.

The committee unanimously passed the bill on Wednesday. It now goes before the full House for consideration.