Every year as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approached in the United States, as an elementary school principal I sent a memo to my school to remind teachers and support staff to be extra aware of possible child abuse during the holidays. Under California law, schools are required to be vigilant about potential neglect and abuse of children–if we were not the school district could be sued when something went wrong. The memo went something like this:
As we enter the holiday season, I would like to remind you that child abuse tends to spike at this time of year. Please be extra aware of behaviors among your students that could suggest abuse, such as flinching when touched, bruises or black eyes or frequent urination for girls. Also note increasing flat affect or unusual crying along with students revealing stories about sexuality that is not appropriate for their age.
As educators, we are not investigators who need to prove any kind of abuse. Our legal responsibility as mandated reporters is to be aware and report if we suspect any kind of neglect or abuse. To report you must call Child Protective Services (CPS) or the police and file a written report using CPS forms in your school’s office so an investigation can be undertaken. The law provides you are held harmless for fulfilling this duty in case parents find out you reported and become upset. Be sure to let your school administrator know after you call or file a written report.
This bland memo covered up all kinds of passion and emotion, sadness and trauma. So much in schools revolves around seasons, and the memo served as a bureaucratic reminder to educators that we were entering a season of trouble, and needed to protect both our students, and the legal liability of the school.