SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker is threatening legislation following criminal charges that were leveled against the Park City School District, accusing it of failing to report several disclosures of sexual abuse.
"If we have a compulsory education system and we’re requiring the children to be there, that should be the safest place on earth," Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said in an interview Tuesday with FOX 13 News.
Rep. Ivory said a bill he successfully passed in 2019 could make the district liable for civil damages in a lawsuit. Under House Bill 391, governmental immunity is waived if it can be shown that a school district failed to enact a plan to prevent abuse. It means the district — and taxpayers — could be on the hook for millions in a civil lawsuit.
"Every school has to have a policy and they have to train to the policy and make sure they’re implementing the policy," Rep. Ivory said. "Boy, it’s hard to tell from the facts that we know right now that there’s any kind of a policy or that there’s any awareness of a policy and certainly that’s a big concern."
The Summit County Attorney's Office charged the Park City School District on Monday with misdemeanor counts of failure to report abuse. The district is accused of not reporting to law enforcement or state officials repeated disclosures of sexual abuse dating back several years.
Utah's Division of Child & Family Services said the law mandates anyone who gets a disclosure of abuse must report it to law enforcement or the agency.
"This applies to any person 18 and up. There are certain exceptions. For example, attorney-client privilege unless there is a chance there could be some immediate danger," said Sarah Welliver, a spokesperson for DCFS. "There is exceptions for clergy in specific cases, say a confessional. If someone expects confidentiality when speaking to a priest during confession."
DCFS could neither confirm nor deny whether it was now actively investigating the abuse cases that Summit County prosecutors alleged never made it to the agency from district officials. The agency provided FOX 13 News data showing that law enforcement was the top referral source to DCFS, followed by family, medical professionals and schools.
"Everyone has that responsibility to keep children safe. Not because of Utah law, but it’s the right thing to do," Welliver said.
Rep. Ivory said he has communicated with Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson about whether more laws need to be enacted in response to this case.
"As we go forward legislatively, we’ll look at are there any holes, any gaps that we need to plug based on this situation," he said.
In response to an inquiry about HB391, the Park City School District referred FOX 13 News to its prior statement on the criminal charges.
"We take these allegations seriously and as always prioritize the safety of our students so that they can reach their academic and social potential. We ask that the public is respectful of the district administration and allows this process to play out before assuming any negligence or bad intent," the district's Board of Education said. "The board fully supports the Superintendent, her administration and all our staff as they continue to provide a safe learning environment for all our students."