Maryland legislators ended their 2018 session without passing a high-profile bill to protect against child sex abuse in schools.
The bill would make it a criminal offense if educators fail to report suspected child abuse, punishable by up to six months in jail.
Although the bill was approved by the Maryland Senate, it did not clear the state House of Delegates before the end of the 2018 session Monday night. The bill was derailed in part by disagreements among supporters about the language it should include and the standards it should set for prosecutors to file a case.
Administrators with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks advocated for new legislation to order criminal penalties for failure to report abuse. They cited the case of Deonte Carraway, a former Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School aide who pleaded guilty to sex offenses against students. A civil suit filed against the school system alleged the district missed warning signs Carraway was abusing children. The school district declined to comment on the suit.
Maryland is one of two states in the nation that does not provide criminal penalties for failure to report suspected abuse, said Baltimore Child Abuse Center Executive Director Adam Rosenberg. “Having a penalty for failure to report is the standard in 48 of 50 states, as well as the District and territories," he said. "What it does is put a protection in place, not just for children, but also the institution and the teacher and social workers.”
Alsobrooks appeared before a legislative committee to urge passage of new law. Days before her appearance, she told the News4 I-Team, “We want to do the most that we can do to put laws in place that give us the tools that we need to block every door that would allow someone to harm a child."
Disputes over the legislation surfaced in March, as a group of child safety advocates questioned whether the bill set a standard too high for prosecutors to successfully file a case of failure to report.
Key state legislators have publicly questioned the need for new legislation, citing rules that allow the state department of education to strip the licenses of teachers who fail to report abuse.
Parents of victims of former Cloverly Elementary School teacher John Vigna advocated for the new criminal law. Vigna was convicted in 2017 of sexually abusing students and sentenced to 48 years prison.
The mother of a victim of Vigna’s told the News-4 I-Team, “It's got to be changed. Something has got to be done about it to stop other families from having to go through what we had to go through.”
Vigna taught third, fourth and fifth graders at Cloverly Elementary School.