The Indiana Department of Education wants schools to background check all staff, including volunteers and coaches, in hopes of addressing growing concerns over sexual misconduct in Indiana schools.
“The Department is expanding the services it provides to local schools and law enforcements,” said state superintendent Glenda Ritz, in a statement. “We will be working with the Legislature to strengthen Indiana’s law in the upcoming legislative session.”
The department’s plan wouldn’t require background checks for people beyond licensed educators, but it would provide a discounted rate for schools to get services from certain background check providers. The department says this would encourage schools to screen other adults that come in contact with children, too.
“As a lifelong educator, I know that keeping our children safe and healthy is a responsibility that our schools take very seriously,” said Ritz, in the statement.
Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, there’s an ongoing problem in Indiana: incidents of school staff sexually abusing or soliciting sex from children.
It’s an issue the Legislature has been studying all summer. It’s a story that’s been all over the news like this and this and this and this. A recent USA Today investigation gave Indiana an “F” rating on a national scorecard for how states screen teachers, citing holes in the state’s screening system.
Currently, state law only requires that districts background check fully licensed school personnel as they are being hired. Screening procedures for other people that come into contact with children, like volunteers and coaches, are left up to local districts.
Under the department’s plan, school personnel would also have the option of receiving enhanced training to identify behaviors of potential sexual predators. And the department would continue providing schools access to a state-run school safety training program.
Department of Education officials also say they will propose a change to state law that would streamline the process for revoking an educator’s license, after being convicted of a crime involving sexual misconduct.
State education officials want judges to be able to revoke an educator license upon convicting a person of a crime. Currently, revocations occur through a separate administrative hearing that happens after an educator is convicted of an offense.
At an August legislative study committee, department officials said prosecutors often neglect to notify the department when school staff are involved in sexual misconduct cases. That notification is required by law.