State supreme court: Teachers have discretion with reporting abuse

The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that teachers have some limited discretion in what they consider reportable child abuse.

The recent decision stems from a 2006 lawsuit filed against Dianne Turner, a now-retired kindergarten teacher who taught for decades in the Fayette County Public Schools.

Turner was a teacher at Southern Elementary when a parent alleged that Turner had neglected to report child abuse involving the parent's 5-year-old daughter and another 5-year-old girl. The parent contended that encounters between the two girls amounted to sexual abuse.

The school district defended Turner's decision not to report the incident between the girls, and an investigation indicated that abuse had not occurred.

The 21-page ruling "gives us some clarification of what teachers and other professionals have to report in regard to child abuse," said Dana Collins, an attorney who represented the Fayette County Public Schools in the case. Because teachers and other school professional have some discretion, she said, they are entitled to immunity from prosecution.

The parent's lawsuit was initially dismissed in the Fayette County Circuit Court but was ultimately upheld on appeal. The appeal then went before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The ruling is important because it makes clear that teachers and other school personnel don't have to report every incident between children including, for example, a kid pushing another kid while waiting in a lunch line, Collins said.

"In the past there wasn't clarification on that," Collins said. There was a feeling, she said, that "you had to report every incident."

Teachers receive annual training on what should be considered child abuse, she said.