Schools facing more checks: Background report required every 5 years

HANCOCK COUNTY — Hundreds of Hancock County educators will be required to undergo background checks in the next five years under a new state law, and local school districts are weighing who will foot the bill.

House Enrolled Act 1079 requires all school employees — teachers, support staff and administrators — to complete an expanded criminal background check every five years. The legislation also tightens the window for a new applicant to obtain both a criminal background check and check of the child protection index, a state registry of people accused of child abuse.

All new school employees must now complete a criminal background check within 30 days and a child protection index check within 60 days under the new law, which was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in April and took effect July 1.

No funding was set aside by the state to cover the cost of the background check — about $20 per employee — leaving it up to school districts to decide whether teachers or taxpayers will foot the bill.

Lawmakers who supported the bill said updated background checks ensure schools across the state are doing their best to provide safe environments for students. Many schools required staff to undergo a criminal history check only when they were first hired.

Local schools still are weighing how they’ll enforce the law and who will pay for the background checks.

At Southern Hancock Schools, teachers, coaches and staff who haven’t had a background check in the past five years will be responsible for covering the cost, said Superintendent Lisa Lantrip.

Across the county, Eastern Hancock Schools will pay the fees for criminal history checks for their staff members who need them, said Superintendent Vicki McGuire.

About 100 staff members have not had a criminal history check in the past five years, said Tracy McCarty, the district’s executive secretary. The law gives schools up to five years to ensure every staff member is up to date, so the corporation will foot the bill for 20 percent of them every year through 2021, she said.

At an estimated $20 per staff member, shouldering the bill will cost the district about $400 annually.

But for larger districts, covering the criminal background check will cost much more, said Greenfield-Central Schools Superintendent Harold Olin.

School leaders will wait until teacher contract negotiations begin in September to decide whether the district will assume the cost, though he suspects the district’s general fund will likely absorb the expense — for 300 teachers, that’s an estimated $6,000, he said.

The district already is creating a five-year timeline to ensure staff members undergo the background check when they’re supposed to, he said.

Some teachers have taught 20 years without undergoing a new criminal history check.

Though the district hasn’t had problems with discovering staff committed crimes while employed with Greenfield-Central, the law is an extra precaution to make sure students are safe across the state, Olin said.

“It makes sense,” he said. “That’s what it’s about _ ensuring kids are left in the hands of good adults.”

Mt. Vernon Schools Superintendent Shane Robbins could not be reached for comment.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.