No employees of the Omaha Public Schools will be charged with failing to report alleged sexual abuse of students by former middle school teacher Shad Knutson, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Thursday.
Kleine said he is satisfied that the school district's new abuse reporting policy, if followed, will prevent a similar situation in the future.
“They're going to get the experts involved right away,” he said.
Under the policy adopted by the Omaha school board in April, an employee must alert law enforcement authorities within 24 hours after a student alleges sexual misconduct by teachers or staff members.
Kleine said his primary concern remains prosecuting Knutson. Pursuing misdemeanor charges against OPS employees could make them reluctant to testify in the Knutson case for fear of incriminating themselves, he said.
Knutson, 35, has pleaded not guilty to seven counts: attempted first-degree sexual assault, soliciting a child by use of a communication device, two counts of child abuse and three counts of third-degree sexual assault involving touching.
His trial is scheduled for February 2013.
Prosecutors allege that the former Nathan Hale Middle School teacher “groomed” four female students, ages 13 to 15, in inappropriate relationships.
Matt Ray, the district's interim executive director of student and community services, said OPS has taken steps to educate employees on the new policy.
Kleine and his chief deputy briefed all district principals last month on the reporting requirements. Ray said principals were to relay that information to teachers.
School officials will no longer attempt to determine whether an accusation is “reasonable” before reporting it, Ray said.
“It takes the whole piece of judgment out of it,” he said.
Ernie Chambers, a member of the Learning Community Council who pushed for charges, said Thursday that Kleine's decision “disgusted” him.
Chambers said the purpose of the mandatory reporting law was to criminalize the failure to report. Violators should not get off the hook because they promise to change their ways, he said.
He noted that the Nebraska State Patrol last week ticketed three Maxwell, Neb., school officials for not reporting an alleged assault on a student by other students at a wrestling camp.
As in the Omaha case, he said, Maxwell officials reportedly determined that the allegations were unfounded.
Under Nebraska's mandatory child abuse reporting law, any school employee who has “reasonable cause to believe” that a child has been subjected to sexual abuse or neglect must report the incident, or cause a report to be made, to police or the state's child abuse hot line.
The law says the employees must also report if they observe a child “being subjected to conditions or circumstances which reasonably would result in child abuse or neglect.”
The law does not include an explicit time limit on making a report.
OPS officials had interpreted the law as giving them leeway to initiate their own investigation to determine if reasonable cause existed before calling police.
District officials said they investigated complaints filed in 2008 and 2009 — involving girls who later told police they were touched — and did not find evidence to back them up. A subsequent police investigation led to charges being filed.
Kleine said several OPS employees were aware of students' allegations against Knutson, but the employees thought they acted properly by passing the word on to superiors or leaving it to the girls' families to report to police.
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