INDIANAPOLIS — A mother of two is applauding the passing of a new law aimed at keeping predators out of the classroom.
On Monday, Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 342, which strengthens the requirements for schools when hiring teachers.
Ashley Nation is a wife and mother of two girls living in LaGrange, Kentucky, just outside of Louisville.
She says she is a survivor of Indiana educator misconduct that began in 2008.
“I’m so happy,” said Nation. “We closed a massive loophole that dangerous people were using to gain access to our children.”
Nation has been working with state Senator Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) to better protect children in the classroom.
“It shows that our voices can pave the way for the future for our children,” said Nation. “Laws are now in place that had they would have been in place back then my abuser never would have been passed to another school. He would have been stopped.”
Freeman originally filed two bills, SB403 and SB342, but much of the language was combined into what is now SEA342, which aims to prevent educator misconduct with children.
The law prohibits schools from hiring or employing people who’ve committed a long list of criminal offenses such as murder, causing suicide, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, aggravated battery, a sex offense, arson, carjacking, neglect of a dependent, and public indecency.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, is expected to force some schools to terminate employees with prior offenses discovered during a criminal history check.
The new law will prevent schools from employing people who are:
- Required to wear an ankle monitor as the result of a criminal conviction
- Who engaged in grooming behaviors in an academic environment
- Who’ve reached an agreement to settle allegations of misconduct at a school
The new law is aimed at preventing “passing the trash,” where problematic educators move from school district to school district.
“This law sends a message that predators do not belong in our schools,” said Nation.
Sen. Freeman emphasizes schools can still hire people who’ve committed criminal offenses if the school board agrees to it.
"Let's give it to the school boards to examine the facts as opposed to us as a state saying no you can never hire someone with this on their background,” said Freeman. “There's always facts. There's always a back story."
Dr. Addie Angelov, CEO of the Paramount Health Data Project—an Indianapolis nonprofit aimed at supporting kids in schools, also testified in support of the legislation.
“Gov. Holcomb just signed the most comprehensive teacher misconduct legislation in the country,” said Angelov. “Everyone involved in making this legislation possible should be commended for putting Hoosier students ahead of politics. As schools navigate the worst teacher shortage in history, they now have the tools they need to ensure Indiana students are safe from criminals, predators, & documented child abusers.”
Senator Freeman took action last year after WRTV Investigates exposed a case in his district.
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.
Because of our reporting, a new law took effect July 1 requiring staffing companies and contractors to share employee background check information with schools.
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Freeman says it didn’t go far enough.
"I still think it left some gaps, some things that need to be addressed and that's why you see the two bills that I filed,” said Freeman.
The Indiana State Teachers Association provided the following statement.
"ISTA will always support protecting our kids by preventing bad actors from getting into a classroom,” read a statement from ISTA. “We support Sen. Freeman's efforts to prevent people who have made terrible decisions from teaching."