Stories of criminal acts can be quite frightening, especially when they involve a person in a position of trust and the children entrusted to her. In Fairfax County Virginia, a special education teacher has been charged with mistreating two autistic boys in her care. Special Ed teacher Jennah Christine Billeter will be facing felony charges of child cruelty for her treatment of two boys in her class.
The Washington Post currently reports that police were alerted to the problem in early July, but the mistreatment of the students dated back to May. At this time, the school officials for Deer Park Elementary in Virginia have declined to comment on the specifics of what took place and when. However, principle Carol Larsen sent a letter to the parents of students at the school, saying that another staff member reported her concerns about possible mistreatment to the principle who in turn alerted Child Protective Services.
The crime of child cruelty or abuse is not only one between the abuser and the victim, but can involve others as well. Although the laws vary, many states have requirements that some people who often come into contact with children in their work have a duty to report suspected child abuse. In some states, anyone who has reason to believe that abuse has occurred must make a report. To make a report, many states have a statewide toll-free hotline. Such reports are anonymous, and there is generally no liability for a good-faith report, even if it turns out to be false.
Some states have lists of those individuals they term "mandatory reporters," in other words, these are persons who must report known or suspected child abuse to a central authority. The list varies by jurisdiction, but will often include the following: clergypersons, counselors, day care workers, hospital personnel, pediatricians, school administrators, teachers and teacher's aides. FindLaw.com has a full representative list of those often required to be mandatory reporters.
In this case, the staff member and principle acted on their duty to report suspected child abuse and it seems that they have helped end a bad situation. According to The Post, Jennah Billeter was also charged with a misdemeanor assault charge for actually assaulting one of the boys, who were 4 and 5 years-old. She is currently on unpaid administrative leave.
- Teacher accused of cruelty to children (Washington Examiner)
- How does one report a suspected case of child abuse? (FindLaw)
- Child Abuse (FindLaw)
- Virginia Child Abuse Laws (FindLaw)