Mandatory Reporting: A Teacher’s Nightmare!

School classroom
Teachers are put in tight spots when it comes to mandatory reporting laws.

A recent news article, while it isn’t an incident that is taking place in Michigan, perfectly illustrated something that could easily happen anywhere in the U.S. A teacher from Columbia County in Georgia has been arrested and accused of failing to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities.

In this particular case the teacher in question, 34-year-old Jon Mark Thornhill Jr., a physical education coach with Columbia Middle School, is said to have been snapchatting with a student when the young girl’s mother became suspicious. She says her 14-year-old daughter was using her phone in such a way as to hide the screen from other viewers.

She took the phone from her daughter and looked at several Snapchat messages that her daughter and Thornhill had exchanged. One of them was from her daughter, alleging that the girl’s father had sexually assaulted her at some point in the past. Another message told Thornhill that the girl missed him and his hugs.

However, it was the message about sexual assault that led to the charges against Thornhill. According to Georgia law, as a teacher Thornhill is a mandatory reporter and as such, is required to notify authorities if he suspects or becomes aware of any kind of child abuse. This is exactly the same in Michigan, where mandatory reporters are required to notify CPS or the police if they suspect any kind of abuse or neglect of a child.

Among others, Michigan law states that physicians, social workers, dentists, nurses, teachers, psychologists, school counselors, law enforcement officers, school administrators, day care providers and even members of the clergy are all mandatory reporters. This is because all of these people come into regular contact with children and have opportunities to observe them for signs of abuse or neglect.

The law states that a mandatory reporter is required to notify CPS, or the police, if they have “reasonable cause to suspect” that child abuse or neglect is occurring, or has occurred in the past. There are consequences to failing to report when obligated to do so by law. For example, if it was discovered that an instance of abuse or neglect took place and someone who was designated as a mandatory reporter knew about it and failed to report it, they could face criminal charges.

Being a mandatory reporter is a lot of responsibility. A person is required to make decisions about whether or not they should report something that could be abuse, but could also be nothing at all. And it is this second option that scares so many people. Making a report about possible abuse or neglect can cause a lot of grief for an innocent family who is being investigated by CPS.

Parents who are concerned about their role in this need not worry. Under Michigan law, parents are not considered to be mandatory reporters. Non-mandatory reporters are people who MAY report to CPS if they have “reasonable cause to suspect” that child abuse or neglect is currently occurring or has occurred in the past. These “non-mandatory reporters” can be anyone, including a friend, neighbor, or relative of the child.

If you or a member of your family has been reported to CPS for suspected abuse or neglect, contact us immediately at 800-576-6035. We have spent decades battling the invasive techniques that CPS workers use during investigations, and we can help to protect your rights. Don’t wait, or hope that they will figure out that this was a false alarm. Contact us immediately. Our skilled CPS defense attorneys are here to help.