House lawmakers have scheduled a committee hearing Wednesday on a bill that would add schools to Rhode Island’s mandatory child abuse reporting law.
The bill was filed in response to a sexual abuse scandal at St. George’s School in Middletown, after it became clear the school had failed to report numerous allegations of sexual abuse. The incidents span several decades and involve several former faculty members and one current employee.
Although the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office says state law already requires school to report suspected abuse to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), advocates for survivors of abuse say they want to clarify the law.
The move came after Rhode Island Public Radio reported a different interpretation of the statute at DCYF. The agency says it has never had the authority to investigate claims of sexual abuse in a school or educational setting. If the agency received a call about a school, it would be referred to law enforcement.
The proposed amendment would remedy that by explicitly requiring schools to report abuse suspected of their employees, and requiring DCYF to initiate an investigation. The agency would also be expected to notify law enforcement of the allegations.
The measure cleared the Rhode Island Senate last month, and advocates are hoping the House will take action before the end of the legislative session.