Bill would clarify reporting requirements of sexual misconduct in schools

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Jan. 25 on a bill that would clarify reporting requirements for alleged acts of illegal sexual conduct between school district employees and students.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, LB839 would require school employees and superintendents who receive reports of sexual misconduct between a student and a school employee to report such misconduct to police within 24 hours of receiving the allegation.

Under the bill, the school district could not investigate the report for purposes of substantiating the allegation, but the district could investigate the allegation for determining the employment status of the accused employee.

Current reporting requirements provide there must be reasonable suspicion that abuse has occurred, but reasonable suspicion is not clearly defined, Council said. The intent of LB839, she said, is to remove ambiguity in the current law and create an immediacy to report illegal sexual misconduct to police.

John Lindsay, lobbyist for Omaha Public Schools (OPS), testified in support of the bill, saying that OPS has been criticized for its process of reporting alleged abuse.

“The problem with the current law is that it requires the districts to make a judgment,” Lindsay said. “This bill will take that [responsibility] out of its hands and clarify that they must report [to police] no matter what.”

Brenda Beadle, chief deputy Douglas County attorney, also testified in support of the bill, saying school officials should not be allowed to conduct their own investigations into sexual abuse allegations.

“There are a number of cases where the school starts doing its own investigation and that impedes the law enforcement investigation,” Beadle said. “When [police] finally get involved, evidence could be destroyed and people could be tipped off.”

Ernie Chambers of Omaha provided neutral testimony.

Current law places the responsibility to report abuse on any person who becomes aware that it is taking place, he said. By singling out school employees or superintendents, he said, the bill could narrow who can report the alleged abuse.

No opposing testimony was given and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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