June 16, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Teacher Must Report Child Abuse Regardless of Circumstances in Which He or She Learns of Abuse

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Heotis v. Colorado State Board of Education on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Teacher’s License—C.R.S. § 19-3-304(2)(l) Reporting Duties—Constitutionality.

Several months before the expiration of her teacher’s license, Hoetis submitted a renewal application to the Colorado State Board of Education (the Board). The Board denied her application because while Heotis was employed as a public school teacher, she did not report to authorities that her then-husband had sexually abused their daughter. The Board determined her failure to report the abuse was unethical under Colorado’s Teacher Licensing Act, C.R.S. § 22-60.5-107(4) (the Act). An administrative law judge (ALJ) upheld the Board’s decision, and the district court upheld the Board’s final order.

On appeal, Heotis argued that the Act violates due process on its face and as applied because the disciplinary options provided to the Board by the Act are too limited as compared to the greater disciplinary flexibility provided to other licensing boards. The court of appeals found no authority to support the proposition that the greater flexibility in other licensing statues represents a constitutional minimum. Hoetis failed to establish that the Act is unconstitutional.

Hoetis also contended that there was insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that she engaged in unethical behavior. She argued that she was not required to report the abuse of her daughter. C.R.S. § 19-3-304(2)(l) required Heotis, as a public school teacher, and thus a mandatory reporter, to immediately report any known or suspected child abuse or neglect. This duty applies irrespective of the circumstances in which the reporter learns of or suspects abuse or neglect. The statute reflects a moral standard in the community for teachers. Substantial evidence in the record supported the Board’s conclusion that Heotis engaged in unethical conduct through her failure to report because it offended the morals of the community.

Hoetis further argued that she was excused from reporting based on evidence that she suffered from battered woman syndrome. The statute does include an exception for persons suffering from battered woman syndrome. Moreover, there was substantial evidence in the record that Hoetis did not report because she was trying to keep her family together, not because of battered woman syndrome.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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