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PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEYS HORRIFIED BY SEXUAL ABUSE IN INDIANA SCHOOLS

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PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEYS HORRIFIED BY SEXUAL ABUSE IN INDIANA SCHOOLS

It’s maddingly ironic, we often complain to each other here at the Ramey and Hailey law firm. Schools exist to train and educate our young people, yet if we’re failing as a community to protect those same youngsters from harm, what have we accomplished? What could have  gone so wrong?

Prior to 2013, Indiana school corporations could run their own background checks when hiring teachers and administrators.  Each school could choose to use a statewide-only background check as opposed to a federal, nationwide check. Then, Senate Bill 160 was proposed, making it mandatory to check for all criminal and sex offender records on a national level.  A small fee charged to the applicant would cover the cost of an FBI-run background check. “”There is no argument….that this bill will help make the screening of applicants for school positions much stronger and help protect school children and other staff more than the statewide-only background checks,” Senator Tom Wyss (R-Ft. Wayne) stated at the time.

How was the system supposed to work?

  • Job applicants needed to list previous employment history, educational history, and references. (For advanced positions, professional certificates needed to be verified.)
  • A national background check was to be done.
  • It was then up to each school to decide which candidates should be disqualified and which were appropriate choices for school-related positions.

As of 2016, how well was the system actually working?

Only at a grade F level, was USA Today Network’s report about the state of Indiana for 2016: “Indiana’s decision to delegate the screening of prospective teachers to local school districts sometimes allows sexual predators and other problematic instructors into the classroom.”

Where were the weak links in the system, according to USA Today?

  1. School districts weren’t required to complete a deep background check until after teachers have been in the classroom for three months.

      2.  State law didn’t prohibit school districts from entering into confidentiality agreements.  Those agreements could be forged before a district cuts ties with a teacher, so past misconduct could remain hidden.

      3. An analysis by the Department of Education showed that, from 2013 – 2016, the agency had failed to report 30% of cases to NASDTEC (the national data base).  Horrifyingly, Ramey & Hailey personal injury attorneys learned, one of the cases not reported involved a kidnapping that resulted in death!    

Covering just the first half of this very calendar year 2017, and covering the state of Indiana alone, here are just seven of the many headline stories we found involving sexual abuse by educators:

  • “Indiana high school teacher had sex with student 22 times, records show.”
  • “Central Indiana music teacher accused of molestation pleads guilty to lesser charge”
  • “Teacher at Atlas Preparatory Academy charged with sexual assault of student”
  • “Warrant issued for ICA teacher on sexual misconduct charge”
  • “IMPD investigating teachers no longer employed after accusation of inappropriate relationship”
  • “Child sex extortion investigation launched in LaPorte Country
  • “Tipton teachers charged with child seduction was told to end contact with student”

A promise of progress:

Indiana House Bill 1079, just passed this spring, is designed to close gaps in the criminal screening process for school employees.  The bill requires that:

  • both public and private schools conduct expanded criminal history and child protection index checks on prospective employees
  • schools check applicants’ references, including their most recent employer.
  • current school employees undergo an expanded check every five years
  • courts notify school officials when a person has been convicted of rape, trafficking, or child molestation.
  • no school district, charter or accredited nonpublic school can establish a policy that delays or restricts the reporting of incidents of abuse
  • School provide child abuse education to students in kindergarten through Grade 12

President Terri Miller of SESAME (Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct, and Exploitation), speaking of teachers, said “This is a position of trust, and every precaution should be taken when you are placing people in authority over children”.

All we can say here at Ramey & Hailey, where we’ve spent many years helping victims of sexual abuse, is “Amen to that!”

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