Legislation aimed at improving teacher screening

Lawmakers are introducing bills that would expand background checks to all school employees.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Legislation moving through the statehouse would tighten Indiana’s laws on background checks for teachers and school employees.

It’s an issue NewsChannel 15 started looking into last month after a Garrett coach and teacher was arrested for battery and public intoxication in Indianapolis. Upon further investigating, it was found the teacher had served jail time for a DUI in another state. We asked the question: What kind of screening do teachers go through and what happens when background checks show a conviction?

Under Indiana law every teacher must go through an expanded criminal background check. The check includes verification of the applicant’s identity, a search of all names associated with the applicant and an expanded search of public records of the area where the applicant currently and previously lived. A multi-state criminal background check is also done as well as a search on the sex offender registry. On top of that, a child protection index check through the Department of Child Services is also done. The hiring school district would then be notified of any arrests or convictions in any state.

“Background checks can be either fingerprint based or public record based,” Indiana Department of Education director of educator licensing Risa Regnier said.

Right now districts have three months to do the background checks on new teachers, something Regnier said helps districts make quick hires.

“If you don’t hire someone until right when school starts you need a little bit of time to get that done and you obviously need them in the classroom instructing students,” Regnier said.

So what happens when the background check shows an arrest or conviction? There are several convictions that would cause someone’s teaching license to be immediately revoked, but some convictions, like DUIs, are taken case by case.

“It’s still left up to the school, so they could still hire that person if they had a DWI or were arrested for shoplifting or whatever else it might have been,” State Senator Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) said. “They can still hire them but at least they know what they are hiring.”

“Those kinds of judgement decisions are really policy decisions as the local level that really would reflect the values of the community and the school community,” Regnier said.

Kruse said there are a combined six bills focusing on making schools safer for students. One bill would require districts to call all of an applicant’s references. Another would require the background check to be done in two months, not three. Others focus on inappropriate relationships with students, something we’ve seen over the years in northeast Indiana.

“It seems like we’ve had more and more of these incidents happening in the last several years, so I think it makes it more important that these bills become law so we can kind of shore this up in the state of Indiana so we can have our kids feel safer in school,” Kruse said.

Another bill, that the Department of Education supports, would require all school employees, not just teachers, undergo background checks. Kruse also authored a bill that would require background checks for employees every five years.