ALBANY – New legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo reforms how private schools must report child abuse allegations and requires those employed by schools to undergo training to identify victims.
The legislation, which will take effect in 180 days, comes in the wake of several high-profile child abuse cases at private schools.
Earlier this year, 10 former teachers at Nichols School, a private high school in the Buffalo area, were found to have had improper sexual relationships with students over a four-decade period.
A report of the incident found that three former administrators from the school were aware of the abuse but failed to properly report it to law enforcement, according to The Buffalo News, which first reported the allegations back in January.
The current law requires only public schools outside of New York City to report incidents of abuse to law enforcement.
"This has left a significant gap in protection students at private schools, special act schools, and all schools within New York City," Cuomo said in a statement.
The legislation, signed on Friday, eliminates the New York City exemption and requires all private schools — including charter schools, state-supported and state-operated schools as well as boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES) — to report abuse allegations directly to law enforcement, the child's parents and the Department of Education.
Those responsible for reporting abuse allegations were also expanded under the new law.
Therapists, speech pathologists, teacher aides and school resource officers will be required to report abuse allegations. Bus drivers must report allegations directly to their supervisors.
Cuomo signed the legislation with an agreement the Legislature will require bus drivers and school supervisors to report abuse allegations, according to Cuomo's approval message.
All employees, including contracted bus services, must undergo mandatory training in identifying physical and behavioral indicators of abuse and how to properly file a report.
Students attending private schools were at great risk of being abused, according to Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, Erie County, who sponsored the newly signed legislation following the Nichols abuse scandal.
“Teachers, school employees and others responsible for the care and safety of our children must be held accountable, regardless of the educational setting," Gallivan said in a statement.
Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, said the loophole had to be closed to ensure “equal treatment of all children.”
“How many more scandals do we have to have and how many more terrible stories do we have to read?” Nolan said on Friday prior to Cuomo's approval. “Obviously, this is an issue that is really, really, really serious and has to be dealt with.”
Child Victims Act
The new law was signed just weeks after Democrats gained control of state government for the first time in nearly a decade following the Nov. 6 election.
Democrats captured 39 of 63 seats in the state's Senate and hold a 3-1 majority in the Assembly in addition to occupying the Executive Mansion after Cuomo easily won a third term.
The party is hoping to pass a more progressive agenda following years of Republican control in the state Senate.
Chief among their plans is passing the Child Victims Act, a law that would allow child victims of sexual abuse until they turn 28 to file criminal charges against their abusers and until 50 to take civil action.
The bill was first introduced back in 2017, and has been passed by the Assembly several times already, but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, in part because the GOP expressed concern about a provision allowing a one-year suspension of the statute of limitations for past cases.
Includes reporting by Jon Campbell of the USA TODAY Network's Albany Bureau.