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Child Abuse Reporting

Maryland's highest court ruled that the state child abuse reporting law included a school teacher after school hours who molested a minor while driving her home from school.

Key point 4-08 . Every state has a child abuse reporting law that requires persons designated as mandatory reporters to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Ministers are mandatory reporters in many states. Some states exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Ministers may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report child abuse.

Maryland's highest court ruled that the state child abuse reporting law which limited reportable abuse to abuse inflicted by parents or "a person responsible for the supervision of a child" included a school teacher after school hours who molested a minor while driving her home from school.

The court's decision provides helpful guidance in the interpretation of reportable child abuse, since many states have laws restricting reportable abuse to acts committed by parents or others responsible for the care of a minor. A teacher volunteered to drive a 14-year-old girl home following classes on the last day of school, and en route he stopped at his home and engaged in sexual intercourse with the girl. Although the teacher had driven the victim home from school on prior occasions, the victim's mother was unaware of this practice. The school principal later testified that teachers had no responsibility for students after the school day ended when not engaged in any official school activity. The teacher was later found guilty of felony child abuse under a state law that specified, "A parent or other person who has permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for the supervision of a child or a household or family member who causes abuse to the child is guilty of a felony." Although the teacher was neither a parent nor a family member of the victim, the trial court found that he had "responsibility for the supervision" of the victim at the time of the alleged misconduct. The teacher appealed, claiming that he was not a person having "supervision of a child" after the end of the school day while driving a student home, and so he could not be guilty of violating the law. The state court of appeals (the highest court in Maryland) upheld the teacher's conviction. The court observed,

It is absurd to suggest that when a parent entrusts her child to a school that that parent does not impliedly consent to any reasonable assistance that a teacher may provide to assure the child's return home from school. In other words, it may be reasonably assumed by both parent and teacher that a parent impliedly consents to all reasonable measures taken by a teacher to assure the safe return of the child from school, including personally driving that child home. Once a teacher assumes the task of personally transporting a child from school to home with the implied consent of the parent, he or she also assumes the responsibility of supervising that child.

The court also noted that there was no "break" in the "teacher and student relationship" that existed between the teacher and the victim. It acknowledged that "such a break, depending on its length and nature, can dispel the teacher's duty to supervise." For example,

Had the teacher and [the victim] met, for example, after they had parted, at a location unconnected with the school, we might have reached a different result in this case. But that is not the case here. Indeed, the teacher's offer to give the child a ride home was made on school premises while the child was still under the supervision of the teacher. And the trip home began on school premises. From the moment he extended his invitation until the time he and [the victim] had sexual intercourse, she was never for long, if ever, either out of his sight or, for that matter, out under his influence or control. At bottom, a teacher-student relationship is based on the student's trust and acquiescence to her teacher's authority. At no time was there a temporal break in that relationship so that we might conclude the relationship inducing both trust and acquiescence to authority have at least temporally ended.

Application . Several states define reportable child abuse as abuse that is inflicted by a parent or other person "responsible for the supervision of a child." This case suggests that this definition can be met by a teacher even outside of school hours and off of school property so long as there has been no "break" in the teacher-student relationship. The court based its decision in part on a Missouri case in which a teacher was convicted of felony child abuse against a student after a school play when the teacher offered to drive the student home. The student accepted the ride and the teacher made a detour to his own home. Sexual contact occurred during the ride. The teacher challenged the evidence that there existed a custodial relationship between himself and the victims. The court described the scope of the student-teacher relationship as follows: "Teachers are undeniably charged with the care and custody of students. When parents send their child to school, they entrust the teacher with that child's well-being. A teacher's duty of care and custody extends beyond the confines on the schoolyard. By virtue of a teacher's position, he was able to exert influence upon [the victim], not only within the confines of the school, but outside of it as well." Anderson v. State, 2002 WL 31812670 (Md. 2002).

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