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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, July 19, 2016 12:23 pm

More background checks for teachers considered

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers on Monday tackled the topic of teachers having sexual relationships with students.

A new law passed this year added a child protection check through the Department of Child Services to see if a teacher ever had a substantiated case of child abuse or neglect.

But with a flurry of teachers arrested recently – especially in central Indiana – a summer study committee is considering further measures.

"Does the committee want to talk about having all school employees rechecked? Is that too much of an expenditure? We need to consider that," said Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis.

He said he wanted the committee to do something more to ensure Indiana students are safe from predators.

A 2009 law expanded required criminal history background checks to nationwide but it only applies to new hires.

Mike McCarty, CEO of Safe Hiring Solutions in Danville, said about half of all teachers and staff have never had a check since they were hired before that law.

He also said the issue of employees crossing the line with students is a national concern – not just Indiana.

But McCarty – whose company provides these checks for 250 Indiana school districts – said most teachers who have gotten in trouble have no prior criminal history. In fact, he said, a vast majority of sex offenders don’t have a criminal record.

He applauded a section of the new law limiting the use of confidentiality agreements. In some cases, teachers have been allowed to resign without a full investigation or charges and then able to move on to another district. Both sides sign an agreement not to talk about any allegations.

Rep. Dale Devon, R-Granger, asked whether every employee – regardless of when they were hired – should get at least one background check performed. Another option is to require every employee to have an update every three to five years.

The cost would likely fall on schools. But Merritt pointed out that other professions licensed by the state require an applicant to pay for a criminal background check before being licensed. Currently, teachers are licensed by the state but each district does the checks.

Merritt also said some teachers have expressed frustration at not knowing whom to report questionable behavior to. But a DCS employee said teachers are mandatory reporters of child abuse and there is an anonymous state hotline.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said it’s about more than knowing a hotline number. Nineteen states require school districts to provide awareness and prevention training for staff in regards to student-teacher relationships.

Smith said sometimes the adult is not the aggressor – a student is. And teachers need to learn how to recognize indicators and avoid questionable situations.

In March, 37-year-old Calvin Moser was arrested and charged with felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and child solicitation. He is accused of having a relationship with a student, including groping her, at the Warsaw Area Career Center.

At least two other area teachers are now serving prison sentences.

• Troy Guenin, a 33-year-old former East Allen County Schools teacher, pleaded guilty to a charge of child seduction and dissemination of matter harmful to minors. He admitted to having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student who served as his classroom intern. He received an eight-year sentence with four suspended.

• Ryen Wilson, 31, received an eight-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of child seduction. Five of the years were suspended. The former Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher had sex with two students in his classroom.

nkelly@jg.net