Burch Middle School: Mandatory Reporting Failure

After all of the publicity surrounding the Steubenville case, it is hard to comprehend that ANYONE in their right mind would attempt to protect their own when it comes to sexual abuse allegations within a school system.  That is exactly what is happening in Delbarton, WV by school administration at Burch Middle School.

On Thursday West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey filed an injunction against several employees at Burch Middle School and the Mingo County Board of Education seeking injunctive relief based on allegations of sexual abuse by two juvenile boys who are alleged to be related to school administrators, as well as  civil rights violations against the victims.  The complaint seeks to prevent the school administration and teachers from preventing or interfering with the criminal investigation and Human Rights Commission investigation into the sexual assault allegations.

On Friday a statement was issued by school administrators which read:

“We are aware of the complaint that has been filed in the Circuit Court of Mingo County. Once the county has been formally served, we will respond accordingly. Mingo County Schools takes student safety seriously and remains committed to providing a secure environmental for all students.”

Sadly, if you read the documents filed by the Attorney General this school does not take “student safety seriously” due to their inaction when the complaints of sexual abuse were initiated, and the subsequent intimidation and bullying of the two young girls who were the victims of the sexual assaults while in the care and custody of Burch Middle School.  NOT ONE complied with state mandatory reporting laws or their own bylaws; specifically Policy 8462 of the Mingo County School bylaws which  requires that reports of sexual abuse or neglect are reported immediately.

The complaint for injunction alleges that Hester Keatley, a guidance counselor at Burch Middle School became aware of unwanted sexual abuse in the spring semester of 2012-2013.  It is assumed via the complaint that she was the initial recipient of the report.

Hester Keatley posted this on her Facebook yesterday:

Mrs. Keatley’s comments regarding her “JOB”:

Statements were taken and My JOB was to give the information to the Principal. I had no knowledge of what occurred after she received the information.  (Source: Hester Keatley Facebook post May 9, 2014 7:32 PM)

This particular quote coming from a mandatory report is  disturbing.   West Virginia Code is quite specific in who is statutorily required to report incidents of abuse or neglect, as well as time limitations in which to do so:

§49-6A-5. Reporting procedures.

(b) Any person over the age of eighteen who receives a disclosure from a credible witness or observes any sexual abuse or sexual assault of a child, shall immediately, and not more than forty-eight hours after receiving such a disclosure or observing the sexual abuse or sexual assault, report the circumstances or cause a report to be made to the Department of Health and Human Resources or the State Police or other law-enforcement agency having jurisdiction to investigate the report.

A West Virginia educator’s STATE MANDATED RESPONSIBILITY is to IMMEDIATELY report the allegations  “and not more than forty-eight hours after suspecting this abuse or neglect, report the circumstances or cause a report to be made to the Department of Health and Human Resources” or law enforcement.  Furthermore, as outlined in the WV Code

…any person required to report under this article who is a member of the staff or volunteer of a public or private institution, school, entity that provides organized activities for children, facility or agency shall also immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, entity that provides organized activities for children, facility or agency, or a designated agent thereof, who may supplement the report or cause an additional report to be made.

Mrs. Keatley spoke with local media

She said she has something in common with the victims in the case. “They’ll be permanently scarred and I’ve been permanently scarred and so has my family because this is untrue. My responsibility was to talk to the girls, get their statements and then I handed those statements over to the principal. That’s the extent of my involvement in this.”

She said if it’s true that no one at the school went to the authorities, they should be punished. “They should be dealt with, whatever that policy is and I’m not sure what that policy is. I hate that this happened to those kids.”

Mrs. Keatley did not do her job as required by mandatory reporting laws, and neither did Melissa Webb, Principal of Burch Middle School or Melvin Cunningham, a teacher and coach at the school.  NOT ONE of them reported as required by state law when they became aware of the allegations.  The complaint also has nothing to do with people being “nervous” because Mrs. Keatley is running for school board, but everything to do with the absolute FAILURE of these adults in their capacity as educators and as mandatory reporters to protect children.

Mandatory reporting laws were created to protect children and failure to report in most states is a misdemeanor offense.  Perhaps it is time for other states to follow suit with Florida where failure to report is now a third degree felony.

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