Almost two weeks after Elizabeth Thomas disappeared in mid-March, the Maury County school district announced a task force to review its parent notification system. The district says it will look at policies for any range of inappropriate contact between student and faculty, and look to include more checks and balances.
10News reached out to the Tennessee Board of Education, and found there is no required state guidance for teachers on mandatory reporting for the suspected abuse of a child. Without state oversight, districts are left to formulate their own training and guidance for teachers.
“Student safety and support is important to us, and at the request of a district, our general counsel and her team will conduct trainings for districts as well,” said Chandler Hopper, deputy director of communications for the Department of Education.
By Tennessee law, everyone is a ‘mandatory reporter,' and required to report any suspected abuse of a child.
Advocates for children say if you’re unsure whether to report – air on the side of saying something rather than staying silent.
“I would say if you think something may be happening, if your spider sense is telling you, ‘that looks inappropriate, and I’m worried for that child,’ – that’s a pretty good indication that you should report it and let the authorities conduct an investigation or safety check for that child's welfare,” said Hugh Nystrom, who has years of experience as an advocate for children.
Knox County Schools was unable to provide anyone to discuss their policies, but sent 10News their policy for faculty/student relations.
Tennessee considers the following as abuse:
· Physical abuse: Non-accidental trauma or physical injury of a child, or failure to protect a child from harm.
· Neglect: Failure to provide for a child's physical survival needs to the extent that there is harm, or risk of harm, to the child's health or safety.
· Sexual abuse: When a child is involved in intentional sexual acts that produce sexual arousal and/or gratification for the perpetrator or sexual behaviors/situations in which there is a sexual component.
· Psychological harm: A repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incident(s) that convey to children they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered. May include both abusive acts against a child and failure to act.
The hotline to report abuse is 877-237-0004. Callers can remain anonymous.
Failure to report is a class A Misdemeanor. It can carry a fine and up to three months in jail.