ST. LOUIS – Teachers are required by law to report suspected abuse. But what if it’s a teacher accused of hurting a child? Our Fox Files investigation found evidence the schools keep outside investigators away.
Mom Tiara McCorkle played audio from the day her daughter first talked about it. McCorkle heard her daughter crying to her sister about a teacher at Dunbar Elementary's pre-school program.
“(I was) heartbroken and I was like, ‘I need to record this,’” McCorkle said.
On the recording, her daughter continued, “She slapped me like this. (You can hear slapping noises on the tape) Like that.” McCorkle explained, “(The teacher) had hit her with a ruler. At that time (my daughter) called it a blue stick with numbers on it.”
McCorkle’s daughter also described how the teacher dug her nails under her arms.
The little girl said, “She poke her fingers in me cause I’m a kid. I was crying for you. I miss you mommy.” McCorkle called the Missouri Department of Social Services and said a representative told her state regulators could not intervene with a school.
“(The representative) told me if the (St. Louis Public Schools) superintendent wanted to do their own investigation they could do it,” she said. “I didn’t feel that was right, but she said that that’s what a lot of (schools) choose to do.”
According to state records, St. Louis Public Schools chose to investigate internally and ruled the claim as “unsubstantiated.”
“They didn’t talk to anybody. They didn’t talk to the teaching assistant or the teacher,” McCorkle said.
The Missouri Department of Social Services sent the mother a letter, explaining why independent child protection workers did not investigate.
It names Missouri Revised Statute 160.261, which involves schools and discipline. It states the “use of reasonable force to protect persons or property...is not abuse,” and adds, the “Missouri Children’s Division shall not have jurisdiction...” to investigate. St Louis Public Schools emailed, saying it "takes all allegations of abuse serious and conducts its own investigations. These investigations are conducted by central office staff members, who are trained specifically to conduct such investigations."In Illinois, Sara Bozarth found a similar response from Triad Community Unit School District #2. Her eight-year-old son got in trouble for sliding across a table. He reported a faculty member pulled him down so hard he hit his head.
“I think, at least, whether it be a police report (or) a report to family services,” Bozarth said. “I don’t think they can police their own faculty’s misbehavior. That is not working out, obviously.”
Bozarth said the school not only would not involve an outside agency, but she said it would not investigate the incident as abuse.
“It bothers me the only policy I could report under was a discrimination policy,” she said. “I don’t know why there's not some policy for the abuse. It seems like if you’re going to address discrimination, then abuse would be up there.”
Bozarth said she told the school discrimination wasn’t a factor and her complaint didn’t fit that category. In the district’s final investigative report, it said, “Because you stated you did not believe (your son) was touched by a staff member for a discriminatory reason, there was no violation...”
Bozarth believes the school “just wanted it to go away.”
Triad would not answer specific questions, but said student safety was its top priority.
The superintendent added that it can report suspected abuse to family services. Bozarth said no one from family services has ever contacted her or her son.