STAMFORD — The Stamford school district made double the number of child abuse or neglect reports in the six months after the teacher-student sex case as it did in the entire year before.
Stamford Public Schools records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the district sent 99 written reports of suspected child abuse or neglect to the state agency during the entire 2013-14 school year.
But since the arrest of Stamford High SchoolEnglish teacher Danielle Watkins last summer for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a student, the numbers of reports city schools are filing with DCF have skyrocketed.
Already this school year, the district has filed 211 reports through Jan. 5, the most recent data available.
The district says this is an indication of overreporting since the Watkins case, not underreporting before she was arrested.
“DCF has confirmed to us that we haven’t been underreporting compared to other districts,” Stamford Public Schools director of support services Mike Meyer, said Friday. “This year they have confirmed overreporting.”
The data provided to Hearst Connecticut Media does not indicate whether the reports were substantiated or not. It also may be incomplete, because the district has not kept thorough records of reports made.
People who work with children are “mandated reporters” of suspected child abuse or neglect — the law requires them to call the DCF hotline within 12 hours of learning of a suspected case, and to file a written report within 48 hours.
That written report, known as a “136 Form,” is a one-page form that asks for basic information about the case, and can be filled out and submitted online.
DCF is supposed to let the people who file the forms know whether the suspected abuse or neglect was substantiated or not, but Meyer said this doesn’t always happen.
Without knowing whether the reports are substantiated, Meyer said, it is hard to know if the sudden jump in numbers of reports made are due to the increased training that the district has had employees undergo in recent months.
The district’s own record keeping also gets in the way. Meyer said school social workers have been trained to copy the central office on any reports they file, he said, but not everyone had done so.
“There’s a very strong chance that other reports were made, and I didn’t do a very good job of making sure they knew to send me a copy,” he said.
The district will try to keep records of DCF reports and whether they’re substantiated in a database now that the Watkins case has brought to light the record-keeping problem.
Hearst Connecticut Media reported earlier that the district has discussed tracking DCF reporting since 2008. Back then, Polly Rauh, who was then chair of the Board of Representatives‘ Education Committee, undertook a review of mandated reporting policy. At the time, the district’s reports were characterized by the state agency as very low compared to other municipalities.
Stamford Police Sgt. Joseph Kennedy and then-Lt. James Matheny testified before the committee in 2008 that “they investigate many child-abuse cases, and none come from the school system,” according to the meeting minutes.
At a follow-up meeting in 2009, Kennedy said the situation had improved “tremendously,” and that the school district maintained a record of every referral made to DCF.
ESimko-Bednarski@scni.com; 203-964-2215; blog.ctnews.com/TheGrade