Indiana parents may be feeling a bit wary about sending their kids to school, following a damning report on the state's teacher background check policies in the Chicago Tribune. The renowned newspaper covered several cases where teachers or tutors throughout Indiana hurt or violated students—despite red flags in their backgrounds that should have prevented employment.
One example was a man who pushed a special education student down the stairs and then hit a witness to the offense. Another was a man who is facing aggravated sexual assault charges against a nine-year-old girl he was tutoring. Both individuals had horrific criminal convictions on their records. The former had spent two years in prison for dogfighting and other gross animal cruelty charges. The latter had convictions for misdemeanor battery and inappropriately touching students. Both men were able to get teacher's licenses through the Indiana Department of Education.
Cases like these, as the Tribune article notes, could explain why Indiana recently received an "F" grade in USA Today's nationwide report about teacher background check policies. The latter individual—the convicted child molester—faced his convictions and served time in Illinois. The former teacher, though—the one convicted of dogfighting and animal cruelty—served his prison time in Indiana.
Indiana failed the USA Today examination based largely on the fact that the Indiana Department of Education doesn't require any background checks for individuals seeking licensure. Instead, the background checks are left up to the school districts themselves. Clearly, not all of those districts are digging deep enough to find criminal history—both inside and outside of the state. Indiana itself provides virtually no support to help schools identify teachers who might pose threats to children. Even once teachers are accused of or charged with misconduct, the state has no laws that demand the reporting of that information.
In a perfect world, school districts around the country would report all teacher disciplinary cases to NASDTEC, the national clearinghouse that tracks such information. Schools would then be able to access NASDTEC and run an additional background check on each new hire, to determine if a teacher had ever had issues with misconduct at other schools. Since not all disciplinary actions within school districts result in criminal charges or convictions, the NASDTEC system would allow districts to see the red flags that don't make it into the criminal record.
Unfortunately, the Tribune article says that "there's not much appetite in the Indiana General Assembly" to change the laws and make teacher background checks a state responsibility. The report quoted a State Representative who said that all legislature on this particular subject "never seems to go anywhere." There is a possibility that the high profile and none-too-flattering press from the USA Today and now the Chicago Tribune could put new pressure on Indiana politicians. For now, though, the state remains a state with a flawed system.