Failing grade fails to protect students

South Bend Tribune

It’s a failing grade that Indiana must work — posthaste — to improve upon.

According to USA Today, the Hoosier state is one of 12 to earn an F on its teacher background checks.

A joint investigation by USA Today Network and The Indianapolis Star highlighted a number of areas where the process of vetting teachers breaks down — including weak mandatory reporting of teacher misconduct, very little information available online about teacher disciplinary actions and teachers’ misconduct not being shared with other states.

The analysis also showed that deep background checks on teachers in Indiana aren’t made until three months after those teachers have already been in the classroom.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how such a system could fail the students it should be protecting. At a recent meeting of a study committee, officials with the Indiana Department of Education asked the committee to propose making it easier for the agency to suspend or revoke the license of a teacher who is arrested or convicted of misconduct.

They also suggested implementing state licensing for school athletics coaches to better know who is working where and enable timely reporting and tracking of potential misdeeds.

The study committee follows a string of recent high-profile cases involving school staff. Legislators are considering making it state law that schools must check references, and making changes that would require all school staff — including coaches and volunteers — to undergo criminal and child abuse background checks.

Currently, Indiana law only requires background checks at time of employment and only for fully licensed educators. Local districts determine how to check the histories of non-licensed staff, including coaches, custodial workers and volunteers.

Next month, the committee is set to recommend policies for the General Assembly to consider adopting next year.

We urge them to strengthen the state’s background check system, including all those entrusted to work with students in Hoosier schools.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfield