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What's required of Florida school employees concerning abuse allegations?

State law requires all school employees to report suspected cases of child abuse, abandonment or neglect
Posted at 5:57 PM, Jul 25, 2023

WELLINGTON, Fla. — Following the arrest of the principal at Palm Beach Central High School and four other employees, WPTV looked into the Florida law and requirements in place for reporting misconduct and sexual abuse.

"The statute provides that someone in a position of authority at a school has an obligation to report any suspected abuse to the Department of Children and Families," WPTV legal analyst Michelle Suskauer said.

The statute is at the center of the investigation.

Education

PBSO: Principal, staffers at Palm Beach Central failed to report sexual abuse

Matt Papaycik
9:34 AM, Jul 25, 2023

Suskauer said state law requires all employees of the district, charter school or private school to report all actual or suspected cases of child abuse, abandonment or neglect.

In this case, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office investigation, they found that not only did assistant Principal Cayado De Garcia not report the alleged sexual assault to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families but another un-named school official did not report the incident because he felt that a sexual assault did not occur based on his investigation.

"They have an obligation to do that, not do their own investigation first or even make an opinion as to whether or not it's possible that abuse did or did not happen," Suskauer said. "And even if the parents say, 'I don't want you to be involved in this school, we're going to do this privately,' it does not matter."

WPTV legal analyst Michelle Suskauer explains the law that school district employees must follow regarding reporting alleged sexual abuse.
WPTV legal analyst Michelle Suskauer explains the law that school district employees must follow regarding reporting alleged sexual abuse.

According to the Florida Department of Education, measures are also in place requiring that schools post the policies and procedures for reporting alleged misconduct.

The notice must include the contact person to whom the report is made and penalties for not reporting.

"They could be guilty of a third-degree felony which is punishable by up to five years in prison plus a significant fine," Suskauer said.

A person can make a report anonymously. But there are exceptions like if you're a health care professional or working in law enforcement.