INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Mar. 2, 2016)-- There are new questions about why Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) didn’t notify the Indiana Department of Child Services sooner when the district found out about a guidance counselor’s alleged sexual relationship with two students at Longfellow Alternative School.
Court papers reveal Indianapolis Public Schools knew about the allegations for six days before filing a formal report with DCS. It’s a delay that seems to be in violation of state law.
Shana Taylor, 37, faces 11 counts total in the case. Nine of them are Child Seduction charges, along with one count of Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor and Dissemination of Matter Harmful to Minors.
A mother of one of the victims went to an assistant principal at Longfellow Alternative School on February 17th with knowledge of the alleged relationship between her son and Shana Taylor. Still, it was February 23rd before the incident was formally reported to the Indiana Department of Child Services.
“It made me sad, and it made me a little scared,” said Toby Stark, Executive Director of Chaucie’s Place, “There was a system failure.”
That’s how child advocate Toby Stark felt when she heard the reports, that IPS waited six days to tell DCS about a guidance counselor targeting children for sex. She calls it a failure because Indiana law is clear, she said.
In Indiana, every citizen of the state is a “mandated reporter,” meaning we all have the responsibility to speak up and report to authorities if child abuse or neglect is suspected.
“This is a call to action that if you work with children in any capacity, you have a legal and moral obligation to know the reporting law. If you are a parent, you have a legal and moral obligation to know the reporting laws,” Stark said.
According to court documents, an assistant principal at Longfellow Alternative School first found out about the alleged abuse on February 17th from a victim’s mother, who provided explicit photos and messages between her son and Shana Taylor.
The assistant principal contacted IPS’s Director of Student Services, who then told him to contact IPS’s Director of Human Resources. The assistant principal forwarded information to a human resources caseworker.
Though IPS suspended Taylor on February 18th, nobody with the district filed a report with DCS until February 23rd, despite at least four people within the district knowing about the case.
“Statutorily, institutions are required to report child abuse or neglect immediately. So as soon as they know, they need to report it either to DCS or law enforcement,” said James Wide, with the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Wide said it’s clear that more education is needed for schools and institutions that deal with children. He also said parents who discover inappropriate relationships should report to DCS or police and not necessarily the school district.
“We would encourage that,” he said, “To call us 24/7 and seven days a week or the police, 911, and let the proper authorities have those accusations.”
Stark said the law requires swift action for a reason.
“You don’t want any evidence compromised that could potentially compromise an investigation or a case in court,” she said.
Failure to Report Child Abuse is a misdemeanor in Indiana. CBS4 asked the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office if they’d explore any charges against IPS officials. A spokesperson on Wednesday evening said the matter is still under investigation.
Tuesday, IPS spokeswoman Kristin Cutler released an updated statement into the incident acknowledging that the district is investigating the reporting process. IPS did not have any additional comment on Wednesday.
“As the investigation continues into these disturbing allegations, IPS is collaborating with the Department of Child Services and IMPD to determine facts, and will respond as quickly and punitively as allowed by law.
Parents should know that the employee was immediately suspended once the district was initially notified of the allegations. The employee is being recommended for termination.
IPS was informed of alleged inappropriate contact between the employee and a student on the evening of Wednesday, February 17. The district subsequently directed the employee to report to IPS Human Resource Services (HRS) on the morning of Thursday, February 18. The employee was placed on suspension, including being banned from any IPS school property.
The welfare of students was immediately safeguarded prior to HRS speaking with the employee. An investigation has been launched regarding the reporting process related to this matter, once relevant facts had been confirmed, to determine whether information was reported to external authorities in the timeliest manner.
IPS Board Policy 3213.01 and related administrative guidelines, in conjunction with state law, outline specific actions for employees to report incidents of this nature:
“All school personnel, including a school counselor or school social worker who acquired the relevant facts in a privileged communication, have a duty to report to Child Protection Service ("CPS").” The administrative guideline further states that “School personnel are to report allegations to the IPS Student Services Department and to the Division of Child Protective Services.”
In this matter, school staff immediately notified the IPS Student Services Department – which directly supervises the program. Student Services immediately contacted IPS Human Resource Services (HRS) to launch an investigation into the allegations.
In light of these events, the district has reminded school leaders to refer to Board policy and administrative guidelines, found in the 2014 edition of the Guide to Emergency Procedures, which is housed in each school.
In the coming weeks, IPS will collaborate with community partners to conduct refresher training sessions for school personnel to ensure districtwide expectations are understood and adhered to, without exception or delay.
The Board and administration take this matter very seriously. These allegations are indeed unsettling, yet we believe this matter does not reflect the integrity of our talented educators. While we worked to immediately protect our students, this issue provides an opportunity for us to remind employees of protocols and expectations.
We know it is an honor that our parents entrust their children to us; and we want them to know that we will do everything within our means to ensure the safety of our students.”