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Must we spell it out? Protect students or be fired

LaVerne Kalafor — suspended school psychologist — has lots of excuses, lots of reasons she got a raw deal.

There should have been signs posted at Eastside Elementary School reminding staffers to report suspected child abuse to the state hotline. And on Feb. 13, when a second-grader told Kalafor that she'd been raped by her stepfather, no such signs were in sight.

Kalafor tried to tell assistant principal Heather McCarty about the girl's report before leaving for the day, but McCarty was nowhere to be found.

And in an email on Monday to Times staffer Danny Valentine, Kalafor denied that a note that she left for McCarty was difficult to decipher: "Why would anyone leave an important note that would be illegible?"

Good question. But here are some better ones:

Why did Kalafor merely leave a note when the safety of a child was at stake?

How could she, with more than 30 years of school experience, not know that state guidelines require her to immediately report suspected abuse?

How could someone with her training — or, really, anyone with a heart or brain — allow a child to board a school bus back to a potential abuser?

How could she leave the girl's side?

This is how basic it is, our duty to protect vulnerable children: Failure to report suspected abuse to the state used to be a misdemeanor; on Oct. 1, thanks to a law passed in the wake of the Penn State University scandal, it became a felony.

That's for you and me, regular citizens. For a child psychologist, failing to call the hotline is the neglect of a core responsibility, like a firefighter hearing an alarm and, instead of rushing to the scene, passing a note to the next shift.

It wasn't quite that simple, Kalafor has said. She tried to track down the assistant principal's cellphone number later on that February afternoon and eventually reached the school social worker — who couldn't do much because Kalafor had forgotten the girl's name.

Also, Kalafor allowed the girl to go home because she knew her stepfather wasn't there, said teachers union representative Joe Vitalo — but he also said Kalafor got this information from the girl.

The bigger point is, nothing prevented Kalafor from calling the hotline, other than that, apparently, she had to get to a doctor's appointment.

And, so, there should have been nothing preventing school superintendent Bryan Blavatt from firing her, which is what he initially planned to do.

He changed his mind after hearing that such action — or, I should say, inaction — hadn't been a fireable offense in the past. He heard this from fellow administrators and from the district's lawyer.

So, yeah, Kalafor was suspended rather than fired at least partly because of the threat of an appeal, because the district hadn't laid the groundwork for dismissal.

Then, by God, they need to start laying it now. When staffers such as Kalafor receive and sign (which she did, by the way) their annual reminder of the need to report abuse, they should also be told that failing to do so will get them fired.

Because if they can't make protecting children their top job, they shouldn't have a job at all.

Must we spell it out? Protect students or be fired 04/09/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 7:09pm]
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