Need to learn chemistry? Look to a teacher.
Need to investigate a possible crime? Call a cop.
One of the most alarming failures a school system can commit is to not report allegations of sexual abuse of a student to the proper authorities. That is a fundamental obligation in protecting the safety of children.
There may be a risk that an individual could be falsely accused. Allegations do not automatically mean guilt. But it is up to the justice system to answer those questions.
There is no reason for any school system to fail to notify law enforcement, let alone make excuses for such a failure. Investigations into such allegations need to be handled by law enforcement officers who are trained to do that. Recent action by the Nebraska State Patrol sent this message clearly, again.
This case involves the school system in Maxwell, a community about 14 miles east of North Platte. The Patrol has ticketed three school officials — the head wrestling coach, the high school principal and the superintendent — on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse or neglect.
If witnesses are being truthful, a young Maxwell wrestler was held down by several teammates and sexually assaulted last year at a wrestling camp in Kearney.
The school officials, through their lawyer, say their own investigation determined there was no reasonable cause to believe the student had been abused and that they followed school policy and state law.
State Patrol Lt. Lynn Williams has said the investigation is ongoing and that there is the potential for more victims to emerge and additional arrests or citations.
Omaha unfortunately had a similar experience when a police investigation led to seven felony charges against a teacher — now ex-teacher awaiting trial — at a middle school. Omaha Public Schools conducted an internal investigation rather than report the allegations to authorities.
OPS policy has now changed. An employee must alert law enforcement within 24 hours after a student alleges sexual misconduct by teachers or staff members, and school officials no longer will try to determine whether an accusation is “reasonable” before reporting it.
The obligation of a school system is to contact authorities. School administrators are not trained investigators. They are not experienced or skilled interrogators of accused persons, witnesses and victims. They are not skilled at gathering evidence. Law enforcement authorities are trained and experienced in protecting not only victims but also the rights of the accused.
In the Maxwell case, that lesson again has been underscored by Nebraska law enforcement authorities.
It’s a lesson no school system should ignore.