State lawmakers discuss expanding screening for teachers

State lawmakers are proposing legislation they say will help strengthen Indiana's system for running background checks for teachers.

The proposals come after an investigation it conducted with the USA Today Network that found gaps in the state's screening process, The Indianapolis Star reported.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, who created one of the proposals, said more frequent screenings would keep administrators informed about their employees.

"Unless you see a report on television that an employee has gotten in trouble—that we've seen on a rampant basis—[employers] don't have knowledge of situations that are occurring," Merritt said. "So I think this constant background check is a necessity."

The bills propose to make background checks more routine and reduce the delay between a completed screen and an employee's start date. Current law allows a three-month window for background checks to be completed, but House Bill 1079 would shorten that window to one month.

Sally Sloan, a lobbyist for the Indiana Federation of Teachers, told lawmakers that she was unsure if the one-month window was realistic if schools have emergency vacancies and need to hire someone fast.

"I wonder about the practicality of that," Sloan said.

In agreement was Mike Brown, legislative affairs director for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. Brown said completing background checks prior to hiring a teacher could cause an "undue burden on our school systems."

He said teachers are sometimes hired weeks or days before the semester starts. The proposed bills could keep a newly hired teacher waiting while a school relies on substitutes.

Lawmakers will also discuss whether schools should put policies in place to check a prospective employee's references before an offer is extended.

The changes would affect traditional public, charter and private schools, Merritt said. Despite the changes being considered by the state, local school districts would still be in control of the screening process.

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