Indiana Mulls Strict Teacher Laws

Published April 1, 2009

Indiana teachers will face a much more rigorous application process if several proposed bills aiming to keep sex offenders out of the state’s classrooms become law.

In January state Sen. Teresa Lubbers (R-Indianapolis) introduced SB 0071, which would allow the state’s department of education to put a teacher’s license on probationary status and publicly reprimand him or her for criminal offenses. The bill also would allow school districts to inform the state of teacher arrests before a conviction.

State Rep. John Barnes (D-Indianapolis) introduced HB 1257, which calls for an expanded criminal history background check on anyone seeking to obtain or renew a teaching license or certificate. Passage of the bill also would make it a crime to make a false statement on a license application.

Closed Loopholes

In February, the Indiana House Education Committee unanimously approved HB 1462, which addresses problems in the teacher application and disciplinary processes.

“House Bill 1462 is a comprehensive bill to strengthen provisions for classroom and school discipline, as well as criminal history background checks and license revocation procedures for child pornography convictions,” said Dan Clark, deputy director of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

“It is unacceptable that criminals from other states have the potential to become teachers in Indiana classrooms because our current system only employs limited background searches,” said state Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute), who introduced the bill. “We have a responsibility to ensure that our children are protected from predators.”

False Accusation Protection

The bill protects teachers from false claims of abuse during physical altercations in a narrow category of instances.

“The bill grants qualified civil immunity to teachers and administrators who act in good faith to maintain order and discipline in schools and classrooms,” explained Trevor Foughty, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.

“Currently, if a teacher breaks up a fight in a hallway by grabbing one of the students by the arm and pulling them off another student, that student can say the teacher grabbed their arm too hard and sue,” Foughty explained.

“Insurance companies usually settle these cases, as the cost of settling is usually less than the cost of defense, which has led to a chilling effect where many teachers don’t act when they need to,” Foughty said. “This law would grant them immunity from such lawsuits, and would also provide that the state attorney general defend them in cases that do go to court.”

HB 1462 is supported by the state teachers union and is most likely to become law, as no action has been taken on the other bills. Foughty said it will probably be voted on this spring.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.

For more information …

Indiana SB 0071:

Indiana HB 1257:

Indiana HB 1462: