Legal Mailbag – 1-8-2020

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The “Legal Mailbag Question of the Week” is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors.

Please submit your questions to: legalmailbagatcasciacdotorg.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week’s question and answer have been provided by guest columnist Natalia Sieira Millan. Attorney Sieira Millan is a member of the Shipman & Goodwin School Law Group, teaches at the Neag School of Education and the Quinnipiac School of Education, and formerly served as an Assistant Legal Director at the Department of Children and Families.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

As a sixth grade teacher, I get nervous every time I read in the paper about teachers and administrators being arrested for failing to report allegations of neglect or abuse. I know I need to report such suspicions promptly, but the question I have for Legal Mailbag is how to best to do so. Last year, a student told me about a beating he received from his mother’s boyfriend and, as a mandated reporter, I made the report by calling the Careline. Unfortunately, I was on hold for over an hour before I finally got through.

Recently, I heard about a new online reporting option and I was thinking that it would save me loads of time. I found the form for online reporting and read that online reporting is available only to mandated reporters in schools who are reporting “non-emergent” situations, whatever that is. To make matters worse, the form said that “By…submitting a report that is emergent, you have not met your responsibility as a Mandated Reporter, and are subject to penalty per C.G.S.17a-28, §17a-101 et seq.; §46b-120.” Yikes! I am not sure that I will always guess right on whether a report is “non-emergent” or “emergent,” and I don’t want to get arrested or worse. Next time I have to file a report, should I just suck it up and call the Careline, however long I have to wait?

Better Safe than Sorry?

Dear Safe:

Legal Mailbag has some good news for you. But before we get to that, we should review the new option for online reporting. In 2018, the General Assembly enacted Public Act 18-67, which authorized DCF to establish a system of online reporting “in a manner prescribed by the commissioner.” Last year, DCF implemented a pilot program permitting online reporting for “non-emergent” situations, i.e., situations when a report is mandated but the child is not in immediate risk. In implementing the online reporting system, DCF drew the distinction between “emergent” and “non-emergent” situations as follows:

This online submission shall NOT be utilized if the alleged victim or similarly situated minor is:
· in immediate harm.
· with need for urgent or emergent medical or mental health care.
· with a realistic fear of further abuse or neglect within the next 24 hours.
· at risk of being inaccessible within the next 24 hours.

Moreover, as you note, DCF originally warned that using the online reporting form for emergent situations could be considered a failure to report. Perhaps as a result of this warning, school employees like you were reluctant to use the online reporting option.

That program is no longer a pilot, and school employees may now file reports online. The good news Legal Mailbag has to share is that DCF revised its DCF Policy 22-1-3, Mandated Reporter’s Failure to Report, last month, and it now provides:

On-line reports may be made to the Careline by mandated reporters if the report is of a non-emergent nature. However, it will not be considered a failure to report if an on-line report is made and it is later determined that the report concerned an emergent situation. The reporter may be referred for further training regarding the appropriate use of on-line reporting. (Emphasis added).

The distinction between emergent and non-emergent situations is really not that complicated, but your concern about the pilot program was understandable, given the threatened consequences of guessing wrong. The change in DCF’s position here is significant and quite welcome, and you and others school employees should go ahead and use the online reporting option when you believe in good faith that the situation you are reporting is not an emergency.