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Governor signs bill into law prompted by WRTV Investigation into educator misconduct

SEA 115 prompted by gaps in the system
Posted at 4:21 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 07:47:56-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Governor Eric Holcomb has signed a bill into law aimed at better protecting children in the classroom from educator misconduct.

Senate Enrolled Act 115, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), was filed in direct response to a WRTV Investigation that uncovered gaps in the system meant to protect students.

Holcomb signed the bill into law on March 15.

SEA 115 will require staffing companies and contractors to share employee background check information with schools— something WRTV Investigates uncovered isn’t always happening.

"I have to give a lot of credit to Kara Kenney and WRTV 6,” Sen. Freeman told the House Education Committee last month. “They did some great reporting on this."

Former Beech Grove teacher’s aide Michael Lazzell pleaded guilty in November 2021 to public indecency after he admitted to fondling his genitals while working at Beech Grove Middle School in January 2019.

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Court documents say female students, one of them 13 years old, told their counselors that Lazzell masturbated in front of them in math class while watching his school-issued computer.

Beech Grove City Schools hired Lazzell as a teacher’s aide not knowing he was previously arrested in 2014 for the same crime, public indecency.

The 2014 charge was dismissed six months later, but experts WRTV Investigates spoke with say the arrest should have come up in a criminal history check.

Beech Grove City Schools says they never saw Lazzell’s background check because he worked for staffing company Kelly Education.

The school district says it pays Kelly Education to do the background checks for employees who work in Beech Grove City Schools.

SEA 115, which takes effect July 1, will require Kelly Education and other contractors like staffing companies and temp agencies to share employee background check information with schools.

Currently, it’s up to someone’s discretion whether to divulge the information.

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When prosecutors charged Lazzell in 2019, Beech Grove City Schools says it did not notify the Indiana Department of Education, the state agency that can suspend or revoke teaching licenses for misconduct.

WRTV Investigates has uncovered Indiana law does not require schools to report school employee charges or arrests to the IDOE, even if the alleged misconduct involves students.

Indiana law only requires schools to notify IDOE if an employee has been convicted of one of more than 30 charges including rape, kidnapping, child molesting, child seduction and performing sexual conduct in the presence of a minor.

Senator Freeman’s bill would add public indecency, a misdemeanor, to the list of convictions schools would have to share with IDOE.

“If that’s in somebody’s background, I think we all agree that’s something we need to know about,” said Freeman.

SEA 115 also adds public indecency to the list of offenses that would allow IDOE to permanently revoke a teacher’s license.

"Public indecency is not, you're on a golf course and you need to relieve yourself,” said Freeman, a former prosecutor. “This is you're exposing yourself and you're trying to have other people see you do it and think someone will be gratified by that."

Michael Lazzell has declined to speak with WRTV.