♫I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Waaatching Meeeeee ♫ (on Zoom)Remember when kids just… left the house every day, from Monday through Friday, for several hours each day? Remember when you could work from home just to change things up, and no one was, like, flushing a toilet during your conference call, or hitting their brother with a wiffle ball bat, or eating cheese curls over your laptop?

Yeah. Us, too.

Everyone is dealing with this new normal, and it’s tough, we know. But now that everyone’s at home teachers are getting a first-time look into their students’ homes – and not everyone is happy with what they’re seeing.

Last year, NPR did a report about teachers who were reporting all kinds of abuse because they could see what was happening to their students in real time. It’s putting teachers in a tough spot, but it creates a real dilemma when a teacher thinks they see something that they didn’t actually see.

Maryland teachers have to report suspected abuse

It’s important to remember that your child’s teachers are mandated reporters. Mandated reporters in Maryland are required to file a report of any suspected abuse or neglect, including episodes of suspected domestic violence, to authorities. These mandated reporters include educators, doctors, human services workers, and police officers. And, teachers continue to be mandated reporters, even during virtual classes.

This is a learning curve for teachers and authorities, too. And although it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety and health of our children, it’s also important to understand that not all families are the same, and not everyone’s living conditions are the same. For example, the Tennessee Department of Education recently proposed what they thought was a great plan to check in on area students.

However, their idea of having untrained liaisons go door-to-door to make visual checks on children went over like a lead balloon with parents. The basic idea is fine – ensuring kids are living in a healthy environment. However, as Reason states in their article, “a home visit from the government can too easily heighten tensions, mistake poverty for neglect, and possibly separate children from their parents. Even cases that are ultimately dismissed can be traumatic.”

Teachers and schools who overreach can cause huge legal problems and trauma for families. Reason notes another case where a school notified police “because an adult male had allegedly exposed himself in front of her daughter’s virtual class—except the ‘adult male’ was actually the girl’s autistic six-year-old brother. Rather than apologizing for the mistake and dropping the case, the school district notified the police anyway.”

If you’re reported, you’re going to need a lawyer – FAST

If a teacher or mandated reporter decides that a child in your home is endangered, you may find yourself facing a slew of incredibly serious charges, including:

  • Reckless endangerment. Domestic incidents that could result in the injury or death of a family member, including a child, is a misdemeanor. Penalties can include five years in prison and/or $5,000 in fines.
  • Child abuse and neglect. Any act that causes serious injury or death to a child is felony first-degree child abuse, with penalties including 25 to 30 years in prison. Any act that causes physical injury to a child is second-degree child abuse and carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison.
  • Domestic assault. A domestic violence conviction can affect you for the rest of your life, especially when allegations are false. Penalties for domestic violence, depending on the charges, include 10 to 25 years in prison.

Those charges are bad. The sex crimes charges are worse.

  • Sexual assault of a child. Depending on what the teacher thinks he or she saw, and what kind of alleged evidence the LEOs find, you could face anything from first-degree rape to third-degree sexual assault. We are talking serious prison time if you’re convicted. And for the record? The only thing lower in the prison hierarchy than sexually abusing a child is killing your own kid.
  • Indecent exposure. Stop walking around in your bathrobe, and make sure the kids put their PJs on after their baths. If looking out a window and seeing someone’s bits can lead to indecent exposure, so can that Zoom conference. You might only get a fine, but the mockery is for life.
  • Internet exploitation of a child. This is normally reserved for distribution of child porn and human trafficking, but those aren’t the only crimes, and everything is different with video conferencing. These types of charges carry hefty fines along with serious prison time.

Convictions for any of these will affect your life, your reputation, your chances for future employment, and your relationship with your family. Certain sex crimes automatically put you on the offender registry. Just a whiff of suspicion is enough to literally ruin your life – no charges or convictions are even needed. You can’t afford to go it alone, especially when a complete stranger is making decisions about your life through a tiny video screen. If you’re facing criminal allegations, it’s time to call Drew.

Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, provides aggressive and smart criminal defense. When you need help, we’re here to help. Give our Annapolis or Ellicott City offices a call today at 410-271-1892 or reach out to me through my firm’s contact page.

And remember – Keep Calm, and Call Drew.