About one month after Lincoln Middle School teacher Thomas Beltran was charged with sexually molesting five of his female students, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board discussed revising its current Child Abuse Policy on June 5th.

And the day after the district discussed the policy, Beltran was charged with nine additional felony counts involving three new female victims, bringing the total number of felony counts to 23, a Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson said.

Beltran, who has worked in the school district for 30 years, faces life in prison if convicted. His bail remains at $3.3 million.

The changes to the district’s Child Abuse Policy would strengthen the current procedure and are recommended by the California State Department of Education, California School Boards Association, the Crime and Violence Prevention Center and the California Attorney General’s Office.

“It’s a much tighter policy,” said assistant superintendent Mike Matthews. “The big change in the policy is that it, one, mandates that we actually educate all students about the dangers of child abuse. That’s a practice in our district, but not a policy.”

The second big change is in the policy’s administrative regulations, Matthews said.

“When a child abuse report happens, it more clearly outlines the steps that need to be taken once that occurs,” Matthews said.

School board member Barry Snell agrees.

“I think the revised policy is more detailed and more helpful to individual schools and the district to be able to make sure that our kids are safe, which is the most important thing,” he says.

If approved by the board at a future meeting, the policy’s name would be changed from “Child Abuse and Neglect (Reporting Procedures)” to “Child Abuse Prevention and Reporting.”

The policy states that “mandated reporters, as defined by law and administrative regulation, are obligated to report all known or suspected incidents of child abuse and neglect.”

Mandated reporters include teachers, instructional aides, teacher’s aides or assistants, classified employees, administrators and security officers, among others.

“If a mandated reporter fails to report an incident of known or reasonably suspected child abuse or neglect, he/she may be guilty of a crime punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment,” states the revised policy.

The policy would also require that the superintendent or a designee provide training regarding the reporting duties of mandated reporters.

The training would “include guidance in the appropriate discipline of students, physical contact with students and maintenance of ethical relationships with students to avoid actions that may be misinterpreted as child abuse,” the policy states.

School board member Kathy Wisnicki called the training “essential.”

“I think it’s really important,” she says. “If we’re not giving the training on the reporting requirements, then we have staff members that don’t benefit from that knowledge.”

The revised policy would also more thoroughly describe the definitions of child abuse and neglect and include examples of what is not child abuse or neglect, for example, “an injury caused by reasonable and necessary force used by a peace officer acting within the course and scope of his/her employment.”

The reporting procedures would also change under the policy.

Currently, “suspected instances of child abuse are to be reported to the school nurse.”

However, under the revised policy, the mandated reporter would be required to notify the principal of the school as soon as possible after making an initial telephone report to the Los Angeles County Child Protection Hotline. The principal would be responsible for informing the superintendent.

The principal and superintendent would also receive a written summary of the report, which is different from current policy.

“If a report involves a school employee, this will allow the school district to keep better track of those incidents and investigate them if necessary,” Matthews notes.

The board could approve the revised policy as early as its next meeting, scheduled Thursday, June 26th.

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