ORLANDO, Fla. - Law enforcement officers in Central Florida are seeing a substantial drop in child abuse cases as more students learn from home.
Reports of child abuse are down 73 percent, according to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office, comparing the months of March through June to the same time period in 2019. In Osceola County alone, from March to June, child abuse reports are down 57 percent compared to the same period last year.
“I want to be there for the kids, I want to be there for their parents… their parents need a break," said Beth Getchell, a 4th-grade teacher in Lake County. She holds two master's degrees and has been in the classroom for 34 years -- long enough to spot child abuse and neglect. “They notice something. The student acts a little different, the student misses a lot of school, the student complains of being hungry… a student shuts down on you, wont talk."
The top reporter of child abuse nationwide are teachers and other school personnel, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I believe that we’re the first- we are the front line," Getchell told FOX 35.
While child abuse reports from teachers are down, more predators are targeting kids online. The number of investigations into internet sex crimes against children has more than doubled in the months that schools have been closed.
The Florida Education Associaton (FEA) represents 150,000 educators across the state and is suing Governor Ron Desantis for opening schools during a time of "uncontrolled community spread" of coronavirus. Andrew Spar, the FEA Vice President, said it is too dangerous for teachers to go back to class.
He explained that "as educators, we are mandatory reporters and we are going to report whenever we see kids in harm's way. We can do check-ins, we can do check-ins virtually certainly on the phone and in other ways."
If you see a child in public and suspect abuse or neglect, authorities say, call 9-1-1. If you know the child's home address, and they are not in immediate danger, you can call the Department of Children and Families abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.
Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the rest of the FOX 35 Classroom Survival Guide as schools prepare to reopen.