ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. (WOWO): Three teachers at Concord High School will not be facing charges for failing to report the alleged actions of teacher Andrew Cowells.
According to the Elkhart County Prosecutors office, they found evidence that several teachers at the school knew about the activities and failed to report them.
The Concord School Corporation said they will pursue disciplinary action against the three.
The State of Indiana believes handling this internally will result in “a more appropriate solution” than pressing criminal charges.
The Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office issued this release Friday:
During a recent investigation into allegations of illegal conduct with children by a Concord High School teacher, Andrew Cowells, Police found evidence suggesting that three additional teachers may have had knowledge of the illegal conduct, and failed to immediately report same to police or the Department of Child Services (DCS). Under Indiana law, any person that has reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected has an obligation to immediately report that behavior to police, or to DCS. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor offense in Indiana. For educators, the responsibility is also generally included in Policies of the employing school corporation. The Elkhart County Prosecutor, Vicki Becker, herself, has devoted numerous hours in many of the school districts of Elkhart County training teachers, administrators, counselors, and social workers on their obligations to report. Furthermore, Ms. Becker has worked with some local school corporations as they have developed their own policies relating to reporting child abuse or neglect. These types of efforts have been effective in training our education professionals, as generally more than 500 allegations of child abuse or neglect are reported every month in Elkhart County and are investigated by DCS and/or police. A significant number of these reports are from front line professionals in our schools. Accordingly, the law and any applicable School Policy, is, or should be, known and understood by every school employee.
The investigation into the three additional teachers for Failure to Report Child Abuse demonstrated that there is some evidence suggesting that those three teachers had knowledge that Cowells, who is currently charged with several criminal offenses, reportedly touched one child in an inappropriate manner and did not immediately report same to police or DCS. The three teachers, allegedly believed Cowells was experiencing a “medical situation.” However, such a belief does not relieve anyone from the obligation to protect students and report abusive behavior. Regardless, the evidence was very clear that school police and administrators removed Cowells less than one hour from the time the student disclosed the touching to one of those teachers, eliminating any further threat to students. In addition, that same teacher contacted DCS later in the day and made a formal report, notwithstanding the fact that a report had already been made.
A strict interpretation of the law regarding reporting child abuse or neglect requires that any person who possesses information that results in a belief that a child had been abused or neglected has a responsibility to report it, regardless of whether it was direct information, or credible third hand information. Child abuse in Elkhart County, as elsewhere in the State of Indiana, is a pervasive problem, and, historically, education professionals have been on the front lines of intervention to report suspicious conduct to police or DCS due to their close interactions with children. Given the number of school teachers and administrators that become aware of these types of allegations, a strict interpretation of that law would result in multiple reports of the same event as every person with knowledge – whether direct or indirect – would have the same responsibility. As a general practice, education professionals immediately report the information to their administrators and a call to DCS or police is placed while they are together.
The purpose of the Reporting law is to ensure that any threat to children is eliminated, and that all adults, teachers included, understand their responsibility in protecting students by notifying authorities of the threat. The State of Indiana recognizes that a criminal prosecution is a significant intervention toward correcting behavior, and does not generally pursue a criminal conviction where a less profound approach will suffice.
Based upon information provided by representatives of the Concord School Corporation, disciplinary action is being pursued against the three teachers regarding the Failure to Report investigation. Furthermore, the State has filed numerous criminal charges against the teacher suspected of illegally touching children at Concord High School. Given the swift, and appropriate, action being taken by Concord Schools, the State of Indiana will not be filing additional criminal charges in this matter as it believes that the disciplinary process will result in a more appropriate remedy to correct future behavior than pursuing a criminal conviction for Failure to Report in this specific case.
As a reminder, if anyone believes that a child is being abused or neglected, they should report same to police or to DCS. Police can be contacted using the 9-1-1 service or by calling the local agency’s non-emergency number. DCS can be contacted at 1-800-800-5556.