Conneaut School District should not have been included in a list of school districts that have not updated their child abuse policies in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, Conneaut officials said Friday.
A review of school district policies announced Thursday by the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General said 21 percent of districts in the state — including Conneaut — still have out-of-date policies more than four years after state laws were strengthened to ensure instances of suspected child abuse are reported.
The announcement came as a surprise to Conneaut Valley Elementary School Principal Adam Jardina, who serves on the district’s policy committee and updates the board on the committee’s work each month.
“I heard about it on the radio when I was coming into work this morning,” Jardina said Friday. “I thought to myself, I’m pretty sure we recently updated that policy.”
Conneaut School Board unanimously approved an updated child abuse policy at its Dec. 12 meeting. The board’s approval was the culmination of a months-long policy review process that began in August when the Pennsylvania School Boards Association notified Conneaut and other districts of the need to update the policy, Jardina said.
An auditor general review of the district’s online policies on Feb. 8 discovered a policy with outdated language dated Sept. 9, 2015, according to spokesman Gary Miller. The same policy had been evident during a previous check in October, Miller said in an email to the Tribune, and the district confirmed that the 2015 policy was the most current policy in a November phone call.
The updated policy was presented to the school board for review in November, according to Superintendent Jarrin Sperry, before being approved in December. Updating policies online usually comes within a day or two after approval, Sperry said.
Sperry said the updated version of the policy has been in effect since after the December meeting.
“I don’t know how they would have seen the old policy,” he said of the auditor general staff check of the district’s online policies earlier this month. Sperry said he was not aware of any time stamp that would confirm when the updated policy was posted to the web.
Pennsylvania strengthened the requirements for reporting child abuse in 2014, two years after Sandusky was convicted of 45 sexual abuse charges. The auditor general’s survey of districts checked to see if districts had formally adopted policies that outline the steps staff must take when abuse is suspected.
Conneaut’s updated policy was available through the district’s website Friday. The procedures for reporting suspected child abuse contained in the policy were nearly identical to those contained in similar policies available through the websites for Crawford Central and PENNCREST school districts. Crawford Central and PENNCREST were among the 79 percent of districts with properly updated policies, according to the auditor general’s review.
“It is completely unacceptable for any district to have an outdated or missing policy dealing with suspected child abuse,” DePasquale said Thursday when he identified Conneaut’s nearly 2,000 students as among the 244,000 students across the state who are attending districts that lack updated policies for reporting child abuse. “The fact that nearly a quarter-million Pennsylvania students attend school districts that lack updated policies is appalling.”
The auditor general review indicated that Conneaut does have a policy but stated the policy’s language on direct reporting of suspected child abuse was out of date as of Feb. 1.
“I don’t know what they looked at or what they saw,” Sperry said Friday. “Who knows what exactly happened.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.