The message of the law to school administrators and officials is clear: if you suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect, report it.

In connection with an alleged rape against a then-16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, administrators recently experienced legal consequences when criminal charges were filed against several officials. At least one of the charges indicated a failure to report suspected rape. The case garnered national media attention for the high school football team’s alleged involvement, and for the work of a hacker organization to bring the school’s mishandling of the accusation to light.

Like many states, Ohio law requires certain persons to report any suspicion of child abuse or face legal action. “If you’re covered, you have to know what the law says and do what it says,” said Hollie Reedy, chief legal counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association.

Colorado’s mandatory reporting statute applies to a number of persons. School officials and employees especially need to know the facts of the law. Here are six things to know:

1. You do not have to know for a fact

According to Colorado’s Mandatory Reporting law, all officials and employees of a public school are required to report child abuse if they “have reasonable cause to know OR SUSPECT that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect.” C.R.S. § 19-3-304.

2. It’s not just what might be happening at home

Child abuse is not just limited to suspicions of a child being physically abused by a parent or adult at home. Child abuse also includes suspicions of inappropriate sexual conduct between students and adult school employees, non-consensual sexual conduct between students, sexual conduct involving a student under 15 and another student with a four-year age difference (i.e. sexual conduct between 14 and 18 year old), and inappropriate sexual conduct between students with developmental disabilities.

3. Failing to report has serious consequences

The penalty for failing to report child abuse is a class 3 misdemeanor ranging from 0-6 months in the county jail and/or a $50-$750 fine. In addition, an individual may be sued personally for failing to report child abuse. There may also be serious job implications, including dismissal for failing to follow district policies regarding child abuse reporting.

4. Your job is about children

Let’s face it: it is awful to be wrong on either side of these situations. If you ignore a suspicion, though, a child may continue to suffer abuse that you could have possibly stopped. On the other hand, an incorrect report may embarrass a colleague by implicating him or her in something despicable. However, when in doubt, err on the side of protecting a child.

5. Report to an administrator – and determine where else you must report

If you suspect abuse, follow your district policy to confidentially report your concerns to an administrator. Additionally, under the law, you must also contact your county department of human services, law enforcement or the state child abuse hotline.

6. Do not contact the abuser about your suspicions

Because you are not an investigator and may be seen as hindering an investigation, you should not contact the person involved in the alleged abuse. It is not enough under the law to just tell another employee or call in an anonymous Safe-to-Tell report. You are responsible under the Mandatory Reporting Statute.

Additional Resources

Colorado School Safety Resource Center (CSSRC)