BROOKSVILLE, Florida -- An elementary school psychologist is scheduled to return to her job this week after being suspended for improperly reporting information about sexual abuse.
LaVerne Kalafor has years of experience as a school psychologist at Eastside Elementary School in Brooksville, but she had just started her job earlier this year at Eastside when a student reportedly told Kalafor she had been sexually abused by someone in her own home.
According to Hernando Classroom Teachers Association President Joe Vitalo, Kalafor ensured the student was safe and that the alleged abuser was no longer in the child's home. She wanted to investigate whether it was a new or existing report, Vitalo says, before leaving for a doctor's appointment that day and then reporting the case to the state's abuse hotline the next day.
However, both district policy and state statute require that school employees report suspected abuse immediately the day it comes to their attention.
The incident was taken to a district hearing, where evidence was presented and Kalafor was given a chance to respond to the allegations. Afterward, human resources and legal officials with the district came to Hernando County Schools superintendent Bryan Blavatt with recommendations.
"Initially, my recommendation was that this was an offense that could be terminable, that the person could be, in fact, fired," Blavatt says.
But as school officials found out more about the case and looked at the precedent already set within the district, they changed the punishment to a 10-day, unpaid suspension.
"But I assure you that we will clarify this so that if there's any post-practice of what took place, clearly it will be defined as a terminable offense," says Blavatt.
The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association represented Kalafor during the investigation and says there was a lot to consider, including that it was just her second day working at Eastside Elementary.
"She didn't know the students there," Vitalo says. "The student was coming in with other students in a group setting at the very end of the day, so she didn't know if this was an old case or a new case. She was trying to determine that before making the decision to report it or not to report it."
"This isn't under just cause, the right to be fired for something that she still did report," Vitalo adds."The child did go home. School psychologists did feel it was safe for the child to go home."
The district hopes this will serve as a lesson to everyone to play it safe no matter what.
"Our primary responsibility is the safety and well-being of the children," Blavatt says.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office says the facts do not meet the requirements to press charges.
The Florida Department of Education's Office of Professional Practices says it can neither confirm nor deny that there's a state-level investigation being conducted into the incident.
The state's abuse hotline can be reached at 1-800-96-ABUSE.