A school psychologist at Eastside Elementary was suspended for 10 days without pay for failing to immediately report to the abuse hotline information provided her by a student, school officials say.
LaVerne Kalafor, the psychologist, has been an employee with the school system since 2006 and has 31 years of experience in the profession.
“A lot of extenuating circumstances surrounding this particular event,” School Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said. “And as we went into it a little further we discerned some information that indicated to us that certainly what Ms. Kalafor did was inappropriate, and certainly didn’t follow the standards we expected, but it didn’t come to the standard of removal.”
Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, said that after Kalafor was provided information by a student of possible abuse, she tried to reach administrators who were off-campus to verify whether that information pertained to a new or old case. Kalafor waited to contact the hotline until the following day.
“We just want to make sure that the consequences meet not only the situation, but also the circumstances,” Vitalo said, adding that Kalafor is part of the teachers union. “Originally, they were going to move for termination, and we had our attorney talk to their attorney, and that’s when it was determined the 10-day suspension without pay and reprimand.”
Director of Student Services Mary-Grace Surrena, who is Kalafor’s supervisor, said professional development training on child abuse was mandated this year.
Florida Statutes require that anyone who suspects that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect is legally obligated to immediately call in their suspicion to the Abuse Registry Hotline at (800) 962-2873.
“Everyone is required to have mandated training on that, and it’s state statute to report immediately suspected child abuse to the hotline,” Surrena said. “We’re all required to sign an update on a lot of that, on what we’re expected to do not only on employee procedures, but we also watch a PowerPoint every year, and we have to sign that we saw the PowerPoint.”
Surrena said the two-hour PowerPoint is mandatory and serves as a reminder for what school faculty and staff are to do when child abuse is suspected.
“It was really well done,” Surrena said. “Every staff member has a supervisor, and if they have any questions about procedure and policies they should always talk with their supervisor if they’re not sure about something.”
The School Board policy manual notes that professionals in daily contact with children are the first line of defense against child abuse and neglect.
Blavatt made the decision not to terminate Kalafor’s employment, he said, and also said Kalafor’s credentials will be reviewed by the state for continuation.
“That was after a long conversation with our attorney, and looking at human resources in past situations, and trying to be consistent with the application of the rules,” Blavatt said. “Certainly in this case, Ms. Kalafor violated professional ethics, and that will be forwarded onto the state for their determination.
“From our perspective, that’s why we took the action that we did.”
The school district is obligated to report infractions in child abuse policy to the state for certification purposes, Blavatt said.
All abuse hotline reports are confidential, according to the school board policy manual, but new revisions require that you provide your name, occupation, name of school and work number for contact by the Abuse Registry staff.
As a professional courtesy, administration should be informed of any suspected child abuse that has been called in, thus informing administration does not preclude the individual’s duty to call in any suspected abuse.