Members of Congress who want to hold a hearing to investigate child abuse reporting laws in light of the Penn State University scandal will have to wait.
A report released Thursday by former FBI director Louis Freeh revealed multiple instances in which Penn State officials failed to report Jerry Sandusky's sexual assaults of children on campus, in violation of the Clery Act of 1990. After reading the Freeh report, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) sent a letter Thursday to Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, requesting that he hold a hearing this month to examine child abuse reporting laws.
"Our Committee has a duty to act," wrote Miller, the panel's ranking Democrat. "We should never wait when children's safety is at stake. And, politics and ideology must not be allowed to stand in the way of Committee action."
However, Kline responded that his committee will not hold a hearing to consider whether federal laws need adjustment until the U.S. Department of Education finishes its investigation of Penn State, including possible Clery Act violations.
The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on their campuses. The Education Department is responsible for monitoring violations of the law.
"When the department concludes its investigation, we will assess the need for committee action," Kline wrote back to Miller. "To prematurely convene a hearing prior to obtaining this information would make it more difficult to adequately address any shortcomings in federal law."
According to the Freeh report, former Penn State President Graham Spanier admitted that school officials had not discussed the Clery Act before 2011 and that a plan to implement the law had not been carried out when the Sandusky scandal broke.
"Indeed, on the day Sandusky was arrested, Penn State’s Clery Act implementation plan was still in draft form," Freeh told reporters on Thursday.
Sandusky, a one-time assistant football coach, was arrested on Nov. 5, 2011, and convicted of child molestation on June 22, 2012.
In Kline's letter sent on Friday, the committee chair told Miller he was "alarmed and appalled" by what was detailed in the Freeh report.
If Penn State is charged with violating the Clery Act, the university could be fined $27,500 per violation. A handful of universities have been similarly fined in the past.
Kline, meanwhile, has been pressing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to provide his committee with an update on the status of studies about the efficacy of state and local procedures for reporting child abuse under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
Kline is gathering signatures on a letter to be sent to Sebelius on Monday requesting information on two past-due studies about child abuse reporting. The CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010 required those studies to be delivered on Dec. 20, 2011; one on the coordination among agencies handling reported child abuse, and the other on how state and local laws "facilitate or deter individuals" from "cooperating, consulting, or assisting in reporting known instances of child abuse or neglect."
Abigail Boyer, assistant director of communications at the Clery Center for Security on Campus, called the news about Penn State in the Freeh report "disturbing and disappointing," and said in a statement that she hopes it will prompt changes in higher education.
"We need to change the culture of sexual violence on college campuses," Boyer said. "Our students and future leaders deserve a safe learning environment. It is imperative to send a message that crime and violence is unacceptable on college campuses."
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