Clark County School Board postpones changes to child abuse reporting policies

Clark County public schools will be changing the way staff reports child abuse and neglect if extensive policy changes are adopted by the School Board. But school officials say the extensive policy revisions are not a reaction to the death of 7-year-old student Roderick “RJ” Arrington in November 2012.

The School Board was supposed to vote on the policy changes on Thursday. The decision was postponed so that the revisions could be run by the Clark County Department of Family Services, district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said.

On Nov. 28, Roundy Elementary School staff noticed RJ was walking with difficulty and had extensive scarring. He told staff his mother and stepfather beat him on the buttocks and back with a TV cord, broom handle, spatula or belt when he was in trouble. School staff called Clark County’s child abuse hotline to report the case but refused the hotline worker’s request to check the boy’s buttocks for new injuries, according to county records.

With scars indicating old, healed injuries and a lack of current visible injuries, the hotline worker determined RJ was not in immediate danger and labeled the case a lower priority, directing school staff to let the student go home.

His brain swollen and body covered with bruises, RJ died from injuries suffered that night. His mother and stepfather face child abuse and murder charges.

While district staff discussed RJ in making proposed changes to the regulations, he was not the reason for the effort, according to Searer.

“Certainly, the case came up. We took a look at it. It’s a terrible situation,” said Searer who emphasized the policies were already under review at the request of workers wanting clarification on who they should inform of suspected abuse or neglect.

RJ’s father, Roderick Arrington Sr., is no longer pointing his finger at the School District, which has been dropped from the list of parties to blame in his wrongful death lawsuit for RJ. The father agreed to a finding that the district “acted appropriately and reasonably under the circumstances.”

Nevertheless, the proposed changes to district regulations may have saved RJ’s life if they had been in place on Nov. 28, 2012.

While current school policies tell staff to only call the child abuse hotline within 24 hours, the proposed changes require them to tell the school principal and a school counselor and nurse, if on site.

A nurse would check for current injuries, said Andre Denson, the district’s chief educational opportunity officer, on Wednesday.

If a child has current injuries showing evidence of present or impending danger, a hotline worker would label the case a top priority, not allowing the child sent home until a Child Protective Services investigator arrives, according to the policies of the Clark County Department of Family Services.

Under the School District’s proposed rules, school staff would also call school police for direction when a worker suspects abuse would occur should the child return home.

“We don’t want to send that child home,” said Denson, who presented the regulation changes to the School Board on Thursday.

The new regulations also make it clear that “school personnel do not have responsibility or authority for determining whether protective care is needed.” That’s up to the county’s Child Protective Services and school police, according to the changed rules.

The message here is to report everything to Child Protective Services, Searer said.

“It’s not our job to investigate these things,” she said. “It’s best to err on the side of caution.”

The rewritten rules also make it clear that parents are never to be called if abuse or neglect is suspected outside of school. That would taint the investigation and could put the child in greater danger, Denson said.

“We just informed the abuser they’re being watched,” he said.

Other proposed changes include expanding the definition of child abuse to include sex trafficking and telling staff that all reporting requirements also pertain to 18-year-old students.

“They’re all students in our system,” Denson said. “We treat them the same way, let the system run its course to protect the students.”

A new training video on child abuse and neglect has also been viewed by all employees of the district, the largest public employer in the state with 39,000 workers.

“It’s mandatory for all employees, even part-time coaches, custodians and bus drivers,” Searer said.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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