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Decision No. 13,388

Appeal of E.C. and J.C., on behalf of T.M., from action of the Board of Education of the Honeoye Central School District, Raymond T. Spadafora, Superintendent, Mark Mondonaro, Principal, and Renda Lelik, Teacher, regarding a report to the Department of Social Services.

Decision No. 13,388

(March 27, 1995)

Harter, Secrest & Emery, Esqs., attorneys for respondents, Ronald J. Mendrick, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners have instituted four appeals challenging respondents' actions in connection with a report of suspected child abuse. Because all four appeals involve similar facts and issues, they are consolidated for decision. The appeals must be dismissed.

Petitioners are the stepfather and mother of T.M., a student at respondent board's middle school. On October 26, 1994, petitioners met with Ms. Lalik, T.M.'s home and careers teacher. Mark Mondonaro, the middle school principal, was present for part of that meeting. While those individuals were talking, T.M. became involved in an altercation with another student. Mr. Mondonaro broke up the fight and escorted T.M. to the room where petitioners were talking with Ms. Lalik. At that point, Mr. Mondonaro and Ms. Lalik heard the stepfather tell T.M. "You're in a lot of trouble now. You want to fight -- we can turn off the lights and go at it right now." Later, T.M. stated that his stepfather had grabbed him by the throat and choked him. T.M. further stated that his stepfather had previously thrown a chair at him, had thrown him against a refrigerator and had hit him when they were alone in a car. Thereafter, Mr. Mondonaro and Ms. Lalik reported those statements to the Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services. The Department of Social Services (DSS) investigated the report of possible child abuse and determined that the "report has been unfounded."

While petitioners' allegations in this appeal are not clear, it appears that they contend respondents should have investigated this matter to determine if child abuse had occurred before the matter was reported to DSS. Petitioners also maintain that respondent board should have established a policy to determine what procedures should be used before reporting an incident to DSS. However, pursuant to Social Services Law '413, school officials are required to report to DSS cases of suspected child abuse. An investigation of those reports is conducted by DSS. School officials are not authorized to decide which cases of suspected child abuse are to be reported to DSS and which cases will not be reported, nor are they in a position to conduct a full investigation of their suspicions.

Petitioners also seem to challenge that respondent board allowed a DSS investigator to come to the school and speak to T.M. without their permission. However, petitioners present no legal support for their claim that such a practice is improper. Based on the record before me, I, therefore, find no basis to conclude that respondent board acted improperly in its handling of this matter.

Petitioners also request that the employment of respondents Spadafora, Mondonaro and Lalik be terminated. Petitioners allege in conclusory fashion that respondents have acted incompetently in several respects. However, it appears that petitioners' main complaint involves the conduct of the individual respondents in reporting to DSS. As noted above, nothing in the record indicates that respondents acted improperly. Moreover, Social Services Law '419 provides that any person making such a report to DSS "shall have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise result by reason of such action." While the statute implies that such immunity may not apply to individuals who were not acting within the scope of their employment, the record shows that respondents in this matter acted in good faith and within the scope of their duties as school officials. Therefore, petitioners have not presented any basis for terminating respondents' employment.

I have reviewed petitioners' remaining contentions and find them without merit.