Pa. officials differ on when to report child sex abuse

In a post-Sandusky world, many wonder how a Sharkey can happen?

Shawn Sharkey, former assistant principal at Susquehanna Township High School, is charged with having sex with a 16-year old female student.

Police arrested him in September, but for months prior to that rumors swirled. The school investigated, but never made a report to authorities.

Many are criticizing Susquehanna Township administrators, but the state's Secretary of Education is not.

“It is not uncommon to get concerns and complaints that you later find out are unfounded,” said Dr. Carolyn Dumaresq, a former superintendent at both Central Dauphin and Steelton-Highspire school districts.

Dumaresq makes clear that protecting kids is Job One, but she says it's also important not to harm otherwise innocent faculty who could be falsely accused.

“Remember, you're dealing with people's professional lives,” Dumaresq said. “You just have to be careful.”

“That's what schools have to balance,” said attorney Jason Kutulakis. “It's a tricky balancing act.”

Kutulakis was a member of the Governor's Task Force on Child Protection which has made several recommendations to toughen current law. Among the suggestions is a requirement that suspected abuse must be reported both to a school administrator and to Child Line.

“We should encourage lots of reports even where we don't know what happened,” Kutulakis said. “Let the authorities figure it out.”

The Carlisle attorney has represented victims of child sex abuse and insists overreporting is preferable to underreporting.

“So we won't see a situation like you saw at Penn State where you have something fall through the cracks,” he said.

Did Susquehanna Township drop the ball in the Sharkey matter? That's still being investigated by Dauphin County District Attorney's Office.

Welfare Secretary Bev Mackereth differs with Dumaresq. Mackereth used to oversee the state's child abuse hotline. She's uneasy with schools conducting their own investigations.

“School officials are not trained to be investigators,” Mackereth said. “So, to have the police involved is the right thing to do.”

Susquehanna Township investigated for weeks and found nothing. Police, within three days of getting a tip, charged and arrested Sharkey.

But Dumaresq warns against calling police for every whisper in a high school hallway.

“If in fact the law changes and we're to report even allegations or rumors, you then need to talk to the police about what's going to keep them busy,” she said.

 

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