Judson ISD proposed the termination of Maria Ruiz, a counselor, based on Ms. Ruiz’s failure to report suspected child abuse.
The independent hearing examiner assigned to hear Ms. Ruiz’s case, recommended that she not be fired. But the board fired her anyway.
So Ms. Ruiz appealed to the Commissioner. The Commissioner affirmed the board’s decision to terminate Mr. Ruiz’s employment.
So Ms. Ruiz took her appeal to state court in Bexar County. There, she won. The judge ordered that she be reinstated with back pay and benefits.
So the district appealed to the 4th Court of Appeals. That court has now ruled in favor of the district.
What makes the case particularly interesting is that the child in question was Ms. Ruiz’s daughter, a freshman at Judson High school. The suspected abuser, Carlos Reyes, was the girl’s mariachi instructor, who was also a paraprofessional and substitute teacher employed by the district. When Ms. Ruiz came across sexually explicit and inappropriate text messages between her daughter and Mr. Reyes, she and her husband immediately met with Mr. Reyes and his wife and insisted that there be no further communication with their daughter, unless it was specifically about music.
That is a step that most parents would probably take. But the problem for Ms. Ruiz was that she was not just a parent in this situation. She was also a school employee, subject to policies and laws pertaining to the reporting of suspected abuse. She did not report Mr. Reyes’s conduct to school officials, the police or the child abuse authorities. About six weeks later, another counselor found out about these text messages, and she reported it to school administrators. They reported to Child Protective Services, and investigations ensued. Mr. Reyes promptly resigned. Ms. Ruiz did not.
The initial hearing examiner in this case concluded that Ms. Ruiz “did not believe abuse or neglect had occurred” and therefore “did not believe it necessary to contact the police regarding the incident.” But as this case points out, that subjective belief about whether or not “abuse or neglect” has occurred is not the whole story. The standard is that we must report if we have “cause to believe” that “abuse or neglect has occurred or may occur.” The court’s opinion emphasizes the concern about future abuse: “Thus a finding that Ruiz did not subjectively believe abuse had occurred in the past does not contradict and is not inconsistent with Ruiz having had cause to believe abuse may occur in the future.”
The fact that the child in this case was the counselor’s daughter does not figure in the decision. Child abuse is child abuse, regardless of whose child it is. The law requires people who have “cause to believe” that abuse or neglect has occurred to do so. This mandate applies to all of us, but for teachers and counselors the stakes are higher. For them, the failure to report suspected abuse is a violation of state law, but also, grounds for termination of employment.
The case is Judson ISD v. Ruiz, decided by the Texas Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio on March 31, 2015. We will have more to say about this case tomorrow.
DAWG BONE: FAILURE TO REPORT SUSPECTED ABUSE OR NEGLECT CAN COST YOUR JOB.