There were about seven members of the public in attendance at the Shullsburg annual school board meeting on Wednesday night, Aug. 27 and one of those individuals was none other than the sheriff of Lafayette County, Scott Pedley, and he wasn’t there just to observe.
Towards the end of the meeting, during the time for public comment, Pedley stood to address the school board on a rather serious topic.
“I just wanted it to be made known that Shullsburg School District has behaved the most poorly in cooperating with my department in the matter of reports of neglect and abuse of students,” he began.
Pedley later expanded on that statement, saying that from November of 2012 through the end of the past school year, Lafayette County deputies have been reporting concerns about the consistency of reporting of child abuse/neglect cases by leadership staff of the Shullsburg School.
“I have confidence, based on conversations with the new principal, that we can work with the staff there to make sure mandatory reporting is no longer viewed as unnecessary or that involving law enforcement/human services is avoided and that mandated reporting will once again be accomplished according to Wisconsin laws,” said Pedley.
Joe Diedrich, of Shullsburg, was recently hired to be the Shullsburg principal—replacing Melissa Emler, of Potosi, who served as the principal at Shullsburg from July of 2012 to July of 2014, when she resigned and took a position with CESA 3.
“I take being a mandatory reporter very seriously, as does the staff at Shullsburg School District,” said Emler, when asked about the comments made by Pedley. “We take it seriously because we are professionals, and every adult in that building cares about the safety and well being of every child.”
Emler stated that Lafayette County Human Services (LCHS) representatives came to Shullsburg School in March of 2014 to discuss mandatory reporting and Trauma Informed Care. She also said that during her time as principal she and the school counselor attended meetings at social services on more than one occasion when human services staff provided updates on supports for students and families.
“It is at those meetings where we learned about the county’s Crisis Intervention Plan with Northwest Connections,” said Emler. “We utilized that plan for at least three incidents,” she added.
When asked for the human services department’s input on the concerns raised by Sheriff Pedley, Lafayette County Human Services director Shane Schuhmacher stated that he was not aware that Sheriff Pedley had made those comments.
Schuhmacher declined to comment more specifically on Pedley’s remarks, but did provide the number of calls made to human services from the zipcode area of 53586—Shullsburg. According to Schuhmacher, LCHS received a total of 31 child protective services (CPS) phone calls from that area in 2013. The origination of the calls could not be broken down any further than by zipcode in the LCHS database, explained Schuhmacher.
Schuhmancher also stated that LCHS is available to all Lafayette County schools to provide mandated reporter training or other training related to human services, and that LCHS representatives had been at Shullsburg School District within the past year.
When asked for clarification on his comments at the recent school board meeting, Pedley said, “In Shullsburg’s case, it seems a culture of non-reporting has been occurring recently and we do not know if that was intentional or unintentional, but, none-the-less, that is what has been our experience.”
Pedley went on to mention that employees of Shullsburg School District who wish to remain anonymous due to claims of potential retaliation, have reported being criticized for making reports to the sheriff’s office and/or human services about abuse/neglect.
“We simply want school officials there to know they are required to make the reports,” said Pedley.
Shullsburg District Administrator, Loras Kruser, said that he believed that the Shullsburg School and staff members have a good understanding of mandatory reporting, pointing out that a couple years ago the school held an in-service day for all staff members, not only teachers, regarding the requirements of mandatory reporting.
“The sheriff was raising concerns that I was not aware of at that point in time, but I am happy to address those concerns and make sure everyone is aware of their responsibility as a mandatory reporter,” said Kruser.
Kruser stated that the district will be utilizing an upcoming early release day to schedule a refresher for the district’s staff, on the requirements of being a mandatory reporter to be sure that everyone is aware of what that entails.
“I certainly want to address these concerns, because it is our responsibility to make those reports and we want all staff to understand their roles and responsibilities,” explained Kruser. “We want to work cooperatively with all outside agencies to do what is in the best interest for all students in our community,” he added.
Shullsburg School Board president, Eugene Uehling noted: “The administration and professional staff at Shullsburg have much more contact with students than any of the board members. The administration and professional staff are mandatory reporters and it is fully expected that they will report any issues they see with the proper authorities. We have some new administration and I think that it would be a good opportunity to review any necessary training to make sure we are compliant on mandatory reporting statutes.”
According to LCHS, a report of child abuse or neglect can be made to either the sheriff’s department or to LCHS, as the two agencies will most likely both be involved in investigating reports.
The sheriff’s department would be looking for potential crimes committed, while LCHS would be assessing the situation and safety of the children in question in order to best protect the child.
It was also noted by human services that in Lafayette County, law enforcement goes out with human services on most, if not all, CPS report investigations and assessments, which is not necessarily how other counties would function.
“Every county differs in regards to going out with law enforcement,” said an LCHS representative. “In some counties, law enforcement only goes out in major situations.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website, Wisconsin law requires all employees of Wisconsin public school districts to report suspected child abuse and neglect, as per Wisconsin Statute sec. 48.981(2)(a)16m. DPI also notes that school boards are to ensure that all employees receive training provided by the Department of Public Instruction within six months of initial hiring and at least every five years thereafter as per Wisconsin Statute sec. 118.07(5).
On the DPI website, two methods are made available to school districts in order to ensure their employees complete the required training, including a Mandatory Reporting of child Abuse and Neglect – Training for All School Employees webcast as well as a Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect – Training for All School Employees powerpoint.