A majority of Omaha school board members reaffirmed Monday night that the district’s policy on reporting possible child abuse needs no changing.
Members discussed their policy in an hourlong closed session with a district lawyer, then voted 9-2 to make no changes.
The vote came after the lawyer advised them that OPS’s policy, contained in student codes of conduct, mirrors Nebraska law and was properly followed in a recent case of alleged abuse involving a teacher.
Attorney Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda said OPS policy is not that district employees make a determination about whether child abuse actually occurred.
“OPS policy follows the law,” Eynon-Kokrda said. “If there is any reasonable belief, staff are to report it, or cause it to be reported, to law enforcement or Child Protective Services.”
Board member Marian Fey said she was satisfied that the district’s policy reflects the law and that OPS staff followed the policy.
“I don’t think it’s enough just to cover your bases by checking off that you followed the law, but that you’re always doing what’s best for our students and our families,” Fey said. “And I’m completely satisfied that our code of conduct supports that.”
The district’s policy and its enforcement were questioned by some after last month’s arrest of former Nathan Hale teacher Shad M. Knutson on three felony counts of third-degree sexual assault of a child. The charges stem from allegations made by three female students in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Board members Justin Wayne and Kersten Borer voted against affirming the policy, saying police should be involved more quickly.
“We should leave those criminal matters, if any, up to those agencies that do it best,” Wayne said.
Board member Freddie Gray said a school resource officer — a police officer who is assigned to work at the school — “was involved in each and every discussion and also each and every investigation.”
“It’s part of what we do. It’s part of the process. And it was handled that way,” Gray said.
Eynon-Kokrda, acknowledging controversy surrounding the teacher’s arrest, said the public needs to know some facts about the case.
She said OPS was never advised by any student or parent that Knutson allegedly sexually assaulted or made sexual contact with any OPS student.
The first report OPS received that he inappropriately touched a student — placing his hand on the student’s hip as the student left class — was in October of 2010, Eynon-Kokrda said.
OPS officials immediately discussed the incident with the child’s parents, including discussion about referral of the teacher to Child Protective Services and police, she said. The parents determined they would contact Child Protective Services, and OPS was told they did so that same day, she said.
From that day forward, she said, Knutson was no longer teaching OPS students.
Eynon-Kokrda said the Omaha Police Department obtained access to all OPS information relating to the teacher in November last year. Officers arrested Knutson in May.
Eynon-Kokrda said OPS officials do not know what additional evidence police may have gathered that caused them to make the arrest six months later.
State law requires those with “reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect” to contact the proper law enforcement agency or the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
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