Teachers and Children’s Services Investigations

Investigations by Children’s Services are NOT legal proceedings. Therefore, BEFORE talking with ANYONE from Children’s Services, please follow these important steps:

  1. If you are notified that a complaint against you has been filed with Children’s Services regarding your treatment of a student in your care, DO NOT make any statement regarding the allegations until you contact the Association President.
  2. After briefing your local president and principal on the allegations, immediately contact your OEA Labor Relations Consultant (LRC). An attorney will be assigned for any Children’s Services hearings or investigations.
  3. You are NOT entitled to have an attorney for meetings with the administration and parents if Children’s Services is NOT involved. Your local association will provide representation for meetings such as this.
  4. NEVER agree to meet with a Children’s Services representative regarding allegations against YOU as a teacher until you have followed steps 1. and 2. above. You DO NOT have to meet on their schedule and you always have the right to consult with legal counsel. Your future as an educator is at stake – don’t risk it. OEA provides assistance; please avail yourself of that assistance.

Teachers’ Duty to Report to Children Services

Ohio Revised Code Section 2151.421 (Key Provisions)

A.1. (a) — Duty to Report
Persons in certain official positions who know or suspect that abuse or neglect has occurred to a child under eighteen (18) or mentally retarded, developmentally disabled or physically impaired child under age twenty-one (21) shall immediately report that knowledge or suspicion to the county public children services agency or the municipal or county peace officer in the county in which the child lives.

A.1. (b) — People Required to Report
Total of twenty-two (22) are listed including licensed school psychologist, speech pathologist, or audiologist, school teacher, school employee, or school authority.

G.1 — Immunity for Making Report
Persons making the report or participating in the investigation IN GOOD FAITH are immune from civil or criminal liability.

Ohio Supreme Court Decision: Campbell v. Burton (imposing individual liability for failure to perform duty to report known or suspected child abuse)

In Campbell v. Burton, decided on July 25, 2001, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a school teacher and her school district could be sued for the teacher’s negligent failure to report her knowledge or suspicion of child abuse to the public children services agency of the jurisdiction.1 In so holding, the Supreme Court reversed the decisions of lower courts that had relied on Ohio’s sovereign immunity law to dismiss lawsuits against teachers and school boards alleging negligent failure to report child abuse.2 The Court held that the abuse reporting statute expressly imposes liability on the individuals designated as mandatory reporters, and thereby creates an exception to sovereign immunity for the teacher and school district. The decision therefore opens the door to lawsuits against school teachers should they have knowledge of possible child abuse and fail to report such knowledge to the appropriate children services agency.

The decision does not expand the mandatory duty of school teachers to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse; these laws have existed for many years. In this regard, teachers already face the possibility of criminal liability for failure to report suspected child abuse.3The Ohio Supreme Court also noted that individuals who report suspicions of child abuse in good faith are granted immunity from civil and criminal liability pursuant to R.C. §2151.421(G). By granting broad immunity to individuals who report suspicions of child abuse in good faith, the law encourages reporters to err on the side of disclosure in all instances of suspected child abuse.

The decision increases the likelihood of teachers becoming defendants in lawsuits where a third party is the actual child abuser, and the teacher has failed to report her suspicion of abuse. OEA members should be aware that boards of education have a duty to defend and indemnify teachers and other employees from such lawsuits under R.C. §2744.07. Even though school districts have a duty to defend and indemnify employees from such lawsuits, teachers and support staff will still face the burden of litigation, including time and inconvenience required to participate in litigation. The best advice to give teachers and support staff is to always err on the side of disclosure of suspected child abuse to the appropriate children services agency.

1School teachers have a mandatory duty to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse pursuant to §2151.421(A) of the Ohio Revised Code.
2Ohio’s sovereign immunity statute provides: “In a civil action brought against a political subdivision or an employee of a political subdivision to recover damages for injury, death, or loss to property allegedly caused by any act or omission in connection with a governmental or proprietary function . . . the employee is immune from liability unless one of the following applies: (a) His acts or omissions were manifestly outside the scope of his employment or official responsibilities; (b) His acts or omissions were with malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner; or (c) Liability is expressly imposed by a section of the Revised Code.”
3A violation of R.C. §2151.421(A), i.e. the failure of a mandated reporter such as a school teacher to report known or suspected child abuse, is a fourth-degree misdemeanor.