Indiana Considers Extra Background Checks for Teachers

By Michael Klazema on 7/22/2016

In response to a slew of news stories about teachers caught engaging in sexual relationships with their students, Indiana legislators recently met to mull over the possibility of introducing extra teacher background check requirements. According to a report from Fort Wayne-based newspaper The Journal Gazette, the state already added a new background check measure for teachers this year. That law required educators to go through a "child protection check" with the state's Department of Child Services.

Now, the state is dealing with a new crisis. The country is witnessing an uptick in stories about teachers charged with sexual misconduct. The problem has been particularly concentrated around central Indiana, according to the Journal Gazette article. Three recent Indiana cases involved male teachers in their 30s who had inappropriate sexual relationships with young female students. Two of those teachers are serving prison sentences; the third is currently facing charges.

State legislators want to address this growing concern, and they are looking to background checks as the solution. In 2009, Indiana implemented a new law that elevated the scope of teacher background checks from statewide to multi-jurisdictional. Under the law, only new hires were required to undergo broader background checks. Any teachers hired before 2009 still only have Indiana state background checks on record.

Lawmakers have proposed potential solutions to this problem. One representative suggested that it might be time for a full-scale update to teacher background checks throughout Indiana. His proposal is to recheck every licensed teacher in the state regardless of when they were hired. Another legislator suggested that the state should require each teacher to go through a background check every three to five years. This suggestion, if it became law, would ensure that the personnel background checks that schools have on record would not become outdated.

Two main concerns with these proposals were raised at a recent legislative committee meeting. The first is that the checks would be expensive. Right now, background check costs are covered by individual school districts. The state could require teachers to shoulder these expenses to avoid putting schools into a difficult situation regarding their budgets. However, as participants identified, teachers themselves would likely object to that option.

The second concern is over whether or not improved background checks would truly solve the problem. The legislative committee interviewed the CEO of the background check company that provides screenings for teachers throughout Indiana's many school districts. The CEO didn't reject the idea that extra background checks might help create a safer environment for students. However, he did point out that the teachers recently arrested for sexual misconduct in Indiana didn't have criminal records. As he identified, there is not always a pattern of abuse or misconduct to help predict when these inappropriate student-teacher relationships are going to happen.


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