A devastating teacher shortage calls into question how thorough hiring and background checks are for teachers. (Getty Images)
The teacher shortage is devastating schools and families across the country
According to Dr. David Bateman, a professor at Shippensburg University, “The talent pipeline has literally dried up. This is the new normal. We are expecting this drought for at least the next five years because the well has completely run dry. There are no future teachers waiting in the wings, we are starting from ground zero.” He went on to note that he hears from districts all over the country that are trying to fill unprecedented numbers of open positions. One school he works with opened the school year with over 600 unfilled teaching positions.
Locally, Dr. Kevin Berkopes CEO of Indiana based XR Technologies shares, “Schools are forced to make concessions on who they hire even when they know it’s not what’s best for kids. They are having to hire untrained teachers without bachelor’s degrees in core academic areas. In some cases, they don’t even dig past an initial background check because they are so desperate to fill teaching vacancies.”
Historically the concern has been whether a teacher had the academic background to be a good teacher, but during the teacher shortage a new concern has emerged; do teachers have a criminal background that should preclude them from classrooms? Stories have recently emerged from Plainfield and Beech Grove of teachers being engaged in criminal activities or having a pattern of criminal behavior in their background that is worrisome.
Currently, per Indiana law, schools are allowed to hire all of the following:
- Teachers with criminal convictions currently on probation
- Teachers with criminal convictions currently on home detention with ankle monitors
- Teachers with criminal convictions currently serving time in jail on weekends and during vacations
- Teachers with substantiated DCS cases currently listed in the Indiana Department of Child Service’s Child Protective Index
- Teachers displaying grooming behaviors in educational environments
- Teachers with failed background checks for criminal convictions by all Indiana law enforcement agencies
- Teachers signing non-disclosure agreements specific to misconduct and moving on to other schools
- Teachers with documented patterns of criminal drug and alcohol abuse over multiple years including DUIs and possession of illegal substances
According to state Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, “The hiring process in many workplaces is difficult because prior employers are reluctant to share concerns for fear of being sued. This is especially true for those concerns based on allegations that were not substantiated. That is why we need to have any allegation properly investigated. That benefits those who may be falsely accused as well.”
During the 2022 General Assembly, Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, championed Senate Enrolled Act 115 to begin to address this issue. He said “During the last session we worked really hard to try close some of the loop holes around background checks for teachers. We specifically focused on changing the language that schools “may” take background checks into consideration to “shall.” This means, starting July 1st schools MUST consider failed background checks for criminal or DCS incidents as part of the hiring process, BUT it doesn’t mean they can’t hire them. In the upcoming session we are going to work even harder to try to make the language more inclusive of DCS substantiated cases.”
While most schools require parents to complete and pass comprehensive background checks in order to serve as classroom and field trip volunteers, more and more teachers are being hired for full time teaching jobs that are not able to pass them in order to fill open teaching positions. Educators point to employment litigation as a major hurdle in combating this issue.
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Chase Lyday, the Indiana Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers and the 2022 National Instructor of the Year said, “Schools need protection from employment litigation to ensure they can stop predators and criminals from moving around. We need to be more worried about kids than we are about litigation. DCS and IDOE do not talk or share information and this is a significant gap. A teacher with a substantiated DCS case does not by law have to share that information with schools and schools are not allowed to ask for it. Information is meant to be shared to protect kids, not save schools from litigation.”
According to Lyday, schools should consider their own organizational policymaking and implementation as a first line of defense in keeping kids safe during the teacher shortage. He shares the following tips for schools:
- Schools should conduct comprehensive background checks on teachers. If you use an external vendor for background checks, ask about all options from vendors that provide additional layers of information and diligence. The cheapest options provide limited information.
- Schools are obligated to do character checks and follow up on reference checks. We must do our due diligence to ensure these things are happening.
- Schools should implement self-reporting policies AND act on them in ways that protect children. These policies should include requirements for employees to share these types of information for continued employment: Arrests, charges, DCS investigations and reports, civil actions including protective orders.
Dr. Berkopes said, “Schools are victims in this scenario, not the cause. The systems in place that are supposed to be part of the talent base are falling short. With employment litigation and the shortage, schools are stuck in a no win situation.”
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