Testimony in a Pittsburgh trial of alleged sex abuse by a former public school police officer underscores the need for quick approval of legislation that requires school districts to report suspected abuse within 24 hours, state Senator Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, said.
Fontana said the reporting of abuse currently relies on a confusing patchwork of regulations that guide school officials when they believe there is a child-abuse incident. Under his bill, S 31, any school official would be responsible to report a case of suspected child abuse within 24 hours.
Fontana said witnesses at the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas trial of Robert Lellock, who was convicted July 29, testified that they were abused by the former school police officer on school premises as far back as 1998, yet no student came forward with abuse allegations at that time. That changed in 1999 when the former principal at the Arthur J. Rooney Middle School suspected that inappropriate activity occurred and reported his suspicions to the officer’s supervisors, according to Fontana.
“Weeks later, the incident was reported to Pittsburgh police. However, the victim refused to be interviewed and the investigation went dormant, according to published reports from the trial,” Fontana said.
S 31 is part of a package of recommended bills from the Legislative Task Force on Child Abuse assembled in the wake of the conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for child abuse.
“My proposal is unambiguous,” Fontana said. “It clearly and unequivocally imposes duties on school officials regarding the reporting of suspected child abuse. The message from my legislation: If you believe you have witnessed abuse, you are responsible to immediately report it to authorities. Period.”
The Senate education committee cleared the bill June 11. The General Assembly is now in summer recess and won’t return until September.