Calif. Assemblyman Mike GattoSACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Today, Calif. Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) bill to help prevent child abuse in our schools and more closely monitor those accused of the crime passed a key legislative hurdle yesterday, clearing the Assembly Education Committee by a vote of 6-0, with 1 abstention. The bill, AB 349, requires the superintendent of a school district, or a charter school administrator, to report to the Department of Education whenever a classified employee is dismissed, resigns, is suspended, retires, or is otherwise terminated as a result of an allegation of child abuse or while an investigation of alleged child abuse is pending.

Current reporting requirements only mandate that administrators immediately report allegations of child abuse against certified teachers to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), who has the authority to revoke a teacher’s credential or remove the teacher from the classroom. Because classified employees, such as teacher’s aides, para-teachers, office assistants, groundskeepers, librarians, security officers, counselors, food service workers, bus drivers, and other personnel essential do not maintain the same types of credentials as teachers, there is no institutional reporting system for allegations against classified employees that do not lead to an arrest, criminal charges, or criminal prosecution. AB 349 would create reporting requirements for classified employees who resign, are dismissed, or settle during the course of a child abuse investigation, creating a centralized, statewide, information system to help prevent repeat offenders from retaining employment at a different school.

The legislation was spurred by a November 2012 report from the State Auditor entitled “Los Angeles Unified School District: It Could Do More to Improve Its Handling of Child Abuse Allegations.” Amongst its findings, the State Auditor reported that there is no statewide, centralized mechanism to communicate information about the circumstances under which a classified employee leaves one school district to find employment in another school district. Absent such a system, a classified employee that left a school by dismissal, resignation, or settlement during the course of an investigation for child abuse that did not result in an arrest or criminal conviction can easily return to work in another school district, a system failure that puts California’s children at risk.

“Even one instance of child abuse that could have been easily prevented is one too many,” said Gatto. “The State Auditor’s report made clear that we needed to take immediate and meaningful action.”

AB 349 aligns the reporting requirements for allegations of misconduct against a child as they pertain to classified school employees with those established for certified teachers. The bill currently defines “allegation of misconduct involving a child” as any act that constitutes child abuse as already specified in the Penal Code, any sex offense as already specified in the Education Code, and any act which constitutes aiding or abetting the unlawful sale, use, or exchange to a minor of a Schedule I, II or III controlled substance. Finally, AB 349 requires the reporting superintendent or charter school administrator to notify the classified employee in writing of the contents of the report.

“Protecting our children from predators while preserving the rights of individuals to be presumed innocent until proven guilty is a delicate balancing act,” said Gatto. “AB 349 maintains this balance with a simple reporting system that will provide hiring administrators the information they need to keep children safe.”

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly. He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.

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