What School Attorneys Need to Know about the New Senate Bill 199: An Act to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse (SL 2019-245)

By Patricia Robinson

The new Senate Bill 199, which was signed into law on November 7, 2019, has two provisions that all education attorneys need to be aware of: (1) a new requirement, effective December 1, 2019, that adults report potential violent or sexual offenses against child victims to law enforcement; and (2) a requirement that by January 1, 2020, LEAs adopt a child sexual abuse and sex trafficking training program for school personnel who work directly with students, with implementation of the training in the 2020-2021 school year.

New Mandatory Reporting Requirement (§ 14-318.6) 

SB 199 requires that “[a]ny person 18 years of age or older who knows or should have reasonably known that a juvenile has been or is the victim of a violent offense, sexual offense, or misdemeanor child abuse [must] immediately report the case of that juvenile to the appropriate local law enforcement agency.” “Juvenile” is defined as someone under 18 years of age who is not married, emancipated, or a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. For purposes of SB 199, the age of the juvenile at the time of the abuse or offense governs.

Offenses to be Reported

  1. Violent offense – A “violent offense” is defined as any offense that inflicts on a juvenile by other than nonaccidental means (1) serious bodily injury, which creates a substantial risk of death or causes serious permanent disfigurement, or (2) serious physical injury, which can include serious mental injury. The definition also includes an attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit or aid and abet any of these offenses.
  2. Misdemeanor child abuse – Misdemeanor child abuse occurs when a parent or person providing care to a child 15 or younger inflicts or allows to be inflicted physical injury to the child or creates or allows to be created substantial risk of physical injury to the child by nonaccidental means.
  3. Sexual offense – Although the meaning of “sexual offense” is not 100% clear in the text of the law, given the rest of the language in the law, the term is likely meant to include rape, attempted rape or sexual offense, sexual offenses, sexual activity, sexual battery, human trafficking, incest, employing or permitting a minor to assist in offenses against public morality and decency, sexual exploitation of minors, felonious indecent exposure, indecent liberties with children/students, solicitation of a child by computer/electronic devices to commit an unlawful sex act, and a parent or guardian committing or allowing a sexual act upon a juvenile.

A mandatory reporter who knowingly or willingly fails to report in accordance with SB 199’s new requirement will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, anyone who makes a report to law enforcement under SB 199 in good faith, cooperates with law enforcement in an investigation, or testifies in any judicial proceeding resulting from a law enforcement report or investigation is immune from any civil or criminal liability.

SB 199 does not require reporting by adults who have a statutory privilege that covers knowledge of the applicable offense.  For example, the reporting requirement would not apply to (1) information acquired by a psychologist while practicing psychology services (§ 8-53.3); or (2) information acquired by a social worker while performing social work services (§ 8-53.7).

Relationship to Other Mandated Reporting Requirements

As you may recall, this new mandatory requirement in SB 199 to report to law enforcement violent offenses, sexual offenses, and misdemeanor child abuse is separate and in addition to the existing mandatory requirement to report suspected child abuse, neglect, or dependency to the local department of social services pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7B-301. Depending on the facts, an individual may be required to make a report to DSS, law enforcement, or both.

Training Program on Child Sexual Abuse and Sex Trafficking (§ 115C-375.20)

SB 199 also requires local boards of education to adopt and implement a child sexual abuse and sex trafficking training program for school personnel who work directly with students in grades K-12 by January 1, 2020. “School personnel” is defined as teachers, instructional support, principals, and assistant principals. At the discretion of the superintendent, the term may also include others who work directly with students (i.e., TAs, bus drivers). All school personnel must receive two hours of training every other year, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. The training should include:

  • best practices from the field of prevention;
  • the grooming process of sexual predators;
  • the warning signs of sexual abuse and sex trafficking;
  • how to intervene when sexual abuse or sex trafficking is suspected or disclosed;
  • legal responsibilities for reporting sexual abuse or sex trafficking; and
  • available resources for assistance.

The law proposes that the training can be provided by local non-governmental organizations with expertise in these areas, local law enforcement officers, or other officers of the court.

As of the date of his post, DPI has issued the following list of organizations to help guide districts in facilitating the sex trafficking trainings:

Additionally, the North Carolina School of  Government has a helpful post entitled “Human Trafficking of Minors and Young Adults: What Local Governments Need to Know” which includes a bulletin with additional resources and information.