This course offered students an opportunity to broadly examine the policies, procedures and routines in place at many public schools in Washington that contribute to a safe and productive learning environment. It focused heavily on the laws and regulations around reporting suspected child abuse and neglect, as well as dealing with situations of violence, drug use or misconduct in school. Overall this course spoke to the fifth element of the Internship Performance criteria: “5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being” (SPU, 2016).
During my observations for this course I had a very interesting experience related to this criteria point. I was observing in a fifth grade classroom and had become very familiar with one boy in particular, J, who received special education support. The boy seemed a bit erratic, coming and going at strange times and was often found outside much before school was to start, or long after school had already started. One day, after J had been out sick for a couple days, the resource teacher came to me and told me that she suspected that J was being left home alone while he was sick.
As stated in the Washington State Guide for Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse & Neglect (2010), signs of an abused or neglected child include “the child […] lacks adult supervision [and] comes to school or other activities early, stays late, or does not want to go home” (p. 3). The earlier patterns of finding J outside at odd hours, along with an interaction that the teacher had with the parent while J was sick all led her to suspect neglect. Having just been learning about this topic at the time, I explained that if a teacher has any reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect, then they must report it. The teacher was worried because she was so unsure, but I restated what the Guide (2010) says:
Reporting should be regarded as a request for an investigation into a suspected incident of abuse or neglect; a report does not necessarily constitute a proven fact […] Anyone who has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect can, in good faith, report. (p. 6)
Hearing this kind of solid information from a trusted, state document helped the teacher feel more comfortable about the report and convinced her that she was taking action to help keep J safe, not to simply get anyone in trouble.
After the teacher decided to report her suspicion of abuse she followed the Seattle Public School protocol. She told the principal about the suspicion, including all relevant information, within 24 hours. The principal then immediately called Child Protective Services. The following day an agent from CPS came to speak with J, along with his two siblings who attend the same school. After that I never heard any outcomes because the situation was no longer pertinent to our supervision of J. The teacher had taken the necessary steps to protect him, and rest was in others’ hands.
The implications of this incident, and any suspicions or reports of child abuse, in the classroom are to be extra intentional about cultivating the classroom as a safe space. It serves to show that for some students, the teacher relationship and the learning community of the school really do provide more of a home than whatever they have outside of school. Interestingly, knowing about this background gave me a lot more patience for working with J and helping him through challenges. This is a reminder to me that it is critical for teachers to really get to know their students and their background experiences because no real learning can occur at school if their home life is not secure, incorporated and relevant.
SPU – Seattle Pacific University. (2016) Internship Performance Criteria (IPC) – Long Form for SPU Teacher Education Students. SPU Sharepoint. retrieved from https://spuonline.sharepoint.com/sites/SOE/TEStudents/SitePages/Internship%20Evaluation.aspx
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. (2010) Protecting the Abused & Neglected Child: A Guide for Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse & Neglect.