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Teachers, Incoming Superintendent Endorse Background Checks Bill

Proposal would require checks for current teachers as well as new hires

(Photo: Jetta Productions / Thinkstock)

A push to apply broader background checks to all Indiana teachers has the endorsement of teachers' unions and the incoming state school superintendent.

An adviser to new superintendent Jennifer McCormick says she'll support a bill to require background checks not just for new teachers, but those already on staff. Last year, the state expanded the scope of those checks from a criminal-record search to include a check for any abuse or neglect allegations with the Department of Child Services. Indianapolis Senator Jim Merritt's bill would stagger the checks of current teachers so everyone is reviewed once every five years.

 Mike Brown says McCormick would like the bill to go even further, covering all school staff down to substitute teachers and janitors. Both the old law and last year's expansion apply to staffers with "direct, ongoing contact with children."

Ronnie Embry with the Indiana State Teachers Association says the union supports the checks as well. She says parents need every assurance their children are safe at school. But the I-S-T-A and the Indiana Federation of Teachers want a change to a provision which requires the teachers to pay the 25-to-40-dollar cost.

Brown says the cost falls on teachers for legal reasons. He says whoever pays for the check owns those records, and staff attorneys have advised it would be a burden on school districts to make them take responsibility for those documents.

The Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the bill and will vote next week on sending it to the full Senate.

The bill was prompted by a handful of scandals in the last year involving sexual contact between teachers and students. This week, a former Indianapolis Public Schools counselor was sentenced to house arrest over allegations she had sex with students, while a former Park Tudor basketball coach was sentenced to prison last year for sexting a student and attempting to lure her into a sexual rendezvous. Another bill authored by Indianapolis Representative Karlee Macer would raise the age of consent for sex from 16 to 18. It's already a misdemeanor for teachers to have sex with students even if they're over 16, but Macer's bill would make it a felony.

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