Gouverneur school working to address students’ needs

Gouverneur Central School at 133 East Barney St. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

GOUVERNEUR — The main page on the New York State Office of Children and Family Services website for Child Protective Services asks a simple question.

“Do you suspect abuse or maltreatment?”

The answer: “Report it now.”

Nearly two weeks after Treyanna Summerville was found dead inside her Rowley Street home, the high school senior’s family, friends and classmates are stepping into summer, still wondering what happened.

Based on multiple interviews over the last two weeks, several people reported to various authorities and mandated reporters that they suspected mistreatment or saw signs of child abuse and neglect that Ms. Summerville may have endured in her home.

A senior at Gouverneur High School in the St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES criminal justice program, Ms. Summerville turned 18 in November. She was set to graduate with about 100 other students last weekend.

“The worst possible event a school can face is the loss of a scholar,” Gouverneur Central School District spokesperson Rebekah Mott said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “GCSD mourns this tragic loss and joins the community in demanding justice for Trey. For many scholars, school is a safe haven where they thankfully spend a majority of time. The GCSD community is heartbroken and sickened by the circumstances of her death.”

Ms. Mott did not comment further on “the circumstances,” though several of Ms. Summerville’s classmates have said they reported concerns about Ms. Summerville’s wellbeing to school officials, sometimes directly to Gouverneur High School Principal Cory Wood. GCSD Superintendent Lauren French on June 24 told WWNY-TV she fielded concerns from parents in the school district who worried about the children living at 135 Rowley St., where Ms. Summerville lived with her younger half sister and their mother Lashanna Charlton.

“This is a tight-knit community, and I have personally greeted every scholar that walks through the door, including Trey and her sister,” Ms. French said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “I am reeling from this loss, as are the other school staff members who spent time with Trey every day.”

As the St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES manager of communications, Ms. Mott said “the district always follows all mandated reporter procedures to report to CPS and document these concerns.”

Facilitated by the state Office of Children and Family Services, Article 6, Title 6 of the state Social Services Law outlines who is legally obligated to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse or maltreatment and how those reports are to be made, in what timeframe and to whom.

Mandated reporters in New York include medical professionals, mental health professionals, police officers, peace officers, district and assistant district attorneys, social workers, teachers, guidance counselors, school nurses, school administrators and dozens more. An exhaustive list is included in Section 413 of Title 6, which is viewable on the state Senate’s Consolidated Laws website.

Anyone can, and is encouraged to, report suspected abuse or maltreatment, according to the state OCFS. Mandated reporters must report when they have “a suspicion that the parent or other person legally responsible for a child is responsible for harming that child or placing that child in imminent danger of harm.”

“Your suspicion can be as simple as distrusting an explanation for an injury,” the OCFS reporting guidelines read.

As soon as a mandated reporter suspects abuse or maltreatment, a report must be made by phone to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, a line open 24/7. Within 48 hours of that call, a written report must be filed with the local social service’s Child Protective Services unit — for St. Lawrence County, that’s CPS at the Department of Social Services building in Canton.

A mandated reporter who “willfully fails” to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment may be convicted of a class A misdemeanor or be “civilly liable for the damages proximately caused by such failure.”

When such reports are made to the Statewide Central Register, staff determine whether the information provided constitutes a registration of the call as a report. If a report is registered with the SCR, the local department of social services is notified, and a Child Protective Services caseworker is required to initiate an investigation within 24 hours of that notification.

If the SCR receives phoned reports of suspected threats to a child not perpetrated by a parent or legal guardian, SCR staff are expected to file a Law Enforcement Referral, transmitting information to the New York State Police Information Network or the New York City Special Victims Liaison Unit, depending on the reported location.

Mandated reporters must complete training, managed by the state Education Department Office of the Professions and facilitated by certified organizations, including the OCFS.

Mandated reporters have a legal obligation to report even after fatalities they suspect may have involved child abuse or maltreatment. As detailed in Section 418 of Title 6: “Any person or official required to report cases of suspected child abuse or maltreatment, including workers of the local child protective service who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child died as a result of child abuse or maltreatment, shall report that fact to the appropriate medical examiner or coroner.”

The 25-sections of Title 6 provide a full overview of mandated reporting, Child Protective Services and the organization’s duties.

“Abused and maltreated children in this state are in urgent need of an effective child protective service to prevent them from suffering further injury and impairment,” the opening section of Title 6 reads.

Since Ms. Summerville’s death was reported and a 13-year-old girl was charged with second-degree murder as part of the ongoing state police and District Attorney’s Office homicide investigation, Ms. Summerville’s father and older stepbrother have traveled from out of state, joining the Gouverneur community in calling for justice. About 300 people cried and sang during a vigil June 22, the day Ms, Summerville was found by first responders; about 50 students and family members revisited the vigil site June 26 after Gouverneur High School’s graduation; 200 people silently marched through the village last weekend; and about 50 people rallied Wednesday in front of the Department of Social Services building and Child Protective Services offices in Canton.

No additional information about the homicide investigation is being released at this time.

The state’s public hotline for reporting suspected child abuse or maltreatment is 800-342-3720.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(3) comments

rdsouth

When you make something have a large first step you tend to discourage it. For example, when asking someone to reform (alcoholism or racism for example) is it better to demand that if they reform they must do all kinds of extra stuff unrelated to the task at hand? You have to make a religious commitment or confess your complicity in a system of oppression, you can't just change. So people don't, they double down. That's the outcome of the design, and maybe the intent. Maybe the same applies to mandatory reporting. Is it true that if you report child abuse, the state comes down heavy handed just at the whiff of a possibility? Maybe it would encourage reporting (and yet lead to the needed outcomes) if potential reporting persons could be confident that their report would merely lead to someone investigating carefully, then potentially coming down harder if it pans out.

Holmes -- the real one

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Well said, RDSouth.

I have heard that very reason from people who said they had "concerns" about a situation but, from previous experience, worried about the heavy handed approach to investigating the report.

rockloper

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