In order to clarify existing regulations requiring all staff members in New York state non-public schools to report suspected incidents of child abuse to the authorities, the New York State Education Department has updated its web page to eliminate any possible ambiguities.
Section 413(1)(b) of the Social Services Law obligates all school officials in any non-public school in New York who has have reasonable cause to suspect an incidence of child abuse to immediately inform the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. This report to the state child protection authorities must take place prior to notifying any member of the school or clergy.
“This isn’t a new law,” Elliot Pasik, president of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children told VIN News. “The State Education Department is announcing a law that already exists, in order to eliminate any possible confusion and misunderstandings. State law mandates that you don’t call your boss, your rabbi or your pope if you suspect something. This is something that cannot be delegated to anyone else. If you have reasonable doubt, you call the child abuse hotline first and only then do you inform your rabbi or school officials.”
According to section 413, the obligation to report suspected abuse falls on any non public school in New York, including religious schools. School officials who fall into the category of “mandated reporter”, someone who, by law, is obligated to report suspected abuse, include teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, school nurses, administrators or any other staff member who is required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificate.
Teachers of religious subjects are not exempt from this law.
Rabbi Perry Schafler, Vice President of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, has been working with the State Education Department and State Office of Child and Family Services to clarify this law since November and the State Education Department revised its webpage this past Monday in order to avoid any further ambiguity.
“Unfortunately, there were people in our community who were trying to distort the law, saying it meant something that was never intended,” explained Pasik. “We are talking about the safety of our children and this new page spells out the issue so that there can be no misunderstandings.”
To further enhance the safety of school children, Assemblyman Dov Hikind introduced a bill two months ago requiring fingerprinting and background checks for all religious and non-public school employees. While New York is among forty two states that requires fingerprinting and background checks for public school employees, non public schools are exempt from this law and only nineteen out of nineteen hundred non public schools in New York fingerprint their employees. Of those nineteen, the only Jewish school to do so is North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck.
“There is no question that fingerprinting is of vital importance and why it hasn’t been done a long time, I have no idea,” said Hikind. “I think we have come a long way on this issue and we are trying to find a way to pay for it so that the financial onus of this important initiative doesn’t fall upon our yeshivos, which are already financially overburdened.”