INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Indiana lawmakers are working this summer to study how teachers get hired in schools and if enough protections are in place to keep predators out of the classroom.
On Monday, lawmakers met with The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and The Department of Education to hear suggestions and recommendations on what can be done to keep kids safe in school. The meeting was the second of three committee meetings being held this summer to study sexual misconduct in schools, after central Indiana saw a scary number of teachers being charged and arrested with child sex crimes.
“We looked at background checks in are there are gaps or loopholes in that process of enabling schools to get as much information about job candidates they can?" said IPAC Assistant Executive Director, Chris Naylor.
One of the concerns IPAC brought forward was a law that went into effect in Indiana four years ago, the expungement law. The law allows certain criminal convictions, including misdemeanors and some felony charges to be removed from a criminal history, meaning those convictions would not show up in a background check. Some of the charges eligible for expungement are: battery of a child, battery of an endangered adult, kidnapping, and criminal confinement. Nayor said prospective employees with criminal histories could slip through the cracks, because charges can essentially disappear.
“There are some offense that a school might want to know about during a hiring process," Naylor said.
State Senator Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) said the expungement law is a "whirling dervish of an issue." Legislators will look into what changes, if any, can be made to the current law. For example, looking into exemptions for teachers, where criminal histories would show up in an expanded background check, even if a teacher had that conviction expunged.
Lawmakers are also looking into other background check loopholes, including a 90 day window, where teachers and employees can be working in a school, even before their background check is complete. Meritt he would be in favor of changing this state law. He believes it should be mandatory for individual school systems to wait until a background check is complete, before an employee can show up to work in a school.
Merritt is also looking into the possibility of making it a state law for schools to check references.
“We’re all very, very concerned about how someone who can survive a background check and being hired into the school, have a clean record and then all of a sudden, something happens inside a school that you cannot predict," Merritt said.
The Indiana Department of Education also made recommendations that both Merritt said he agrees with. One change suggested would be to allow judges to revoke a teachers license for certain crimes during sentencing, rather than having a separate hearing after the sentencing.
Department of Education Executive Director of Communications, Daniel Altman stated there are several other suggestions being discussed when it comes to teachers licenses and the process of revoking them after convictions. Those recommendations include:
- Changing state law to allow for a summary or emergency suspension after an individual is convicted but prior to completion of the administrative process.
- Changing state law to allow the Department to take action action against a license while still providing due process.
In a statement, Altman said of the committee meetings, "We look forward to working with the Legislature on any proposals that may come up as we move towards the legislative session."
Naylor said through updated technology, judges could also immediately inform The Department of Education when a teacher has been convicted of a crime. State law requires prosecutors to notify The Department of Education following a conviction, but that doesn't always happen.
"Having that automated process from the court and the court records, directly to the department of education would minimize the opportunity for delays or anyone dropping the ball," Naylor said.
The next and final meeting is September 20. Lawmakers will develop a plan to bring forward this coming session.