INDIANAPOLIS — 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.
“Healing is a journey, it’s not something where I can snap my fingers and say I’m healed,” said Nation. "My daughter wants to do activities and that brings me so much anxiety because I have to trust other adults with my child. I know when I put my trust in a teacher I got abused."
Nation has been working with state Senator Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) to better protect children in the classroom.
“In a nutshell, we need to make sure that anyone that comes into contact with a child at a school is an appropriate person,” said Freeman.
Senate Bill 403 is aimed at what’s often called “passing the trash” or problematic teachers moving from school district to school district.
“I think school B has a right to know what happened at school A,” said Freeman. “If you're going to be a teacher, I think we have the right to know what happened in that situation. Senate Bill 403 would require school A to notify School B about that misconduct."
Senate Bill 342 would prohibit schools from hiring or employing people who’ve committed a long list of criminal offenses.
It would also 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
Freeman emphasizes schools can still hire people like this 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."
The school must also notify the Indiana Department of Education about the hiring, explain why it was necessary, and create a plan to protect the safety of students.
Child advocates say SB342 would also protect schools who are often afraid to share information about misconduct for fear of violating employment law.
“They’re trying to protect their school system from getting sued by not talking about this topic,” said Dr. Addie Angelov, CEO of the Paramount Health Data Project—an Indianapolis nonprofit aimed at supporting kids in schools.
Dr. Angelov says the teacher shortage is causing schools to hire people they normally wouldn’t.
“If a teacher right now has a substantiated DCS (Department of Child Services) case, those are confidential to protect the child, so there’s nothing that says the teacher has to notify the school that the substantiated DCS case is on their record,” said Dr. Angelov.
SB342 would require schools to look at that information, in fact, Dr. Angelov says school boards would have to approve employing someone with a DCS substantiation for child abuse or neglect.
"If Indiana's DCS did an investigation and substantiated that case, then we should at least have a conversation about whether that person should be in a room by themselves with kids again and what that means,” said Dr. Angelov. “As a parent, you would want to know, the person spending 8 hours a day with your child has this in their background."
SB342 would also require schools to come up with a safety plan if they employ someone with a DCS substantiation for child abuse or neglect, said Dr. Angelov.
“We aren’t saying you can’t hire them, but they need to take extra precautions because they clearly have a pattern of behavior that is not safe for kids,” said Dr. Angelov.
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.
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.
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.
Unions representing teachers want to make sure educators are not punished for mistakes they made when they were younger.
Freeman agrees and is working with the unions to address that.
“If you have a teacher buying alcohol for the entire class getting underage kids intoxicated, that’s a problem and you should never be in front of children again,” said Freeman. “If a 21-year-old supplies a 20-year-old with a beer that’s a crime, but I don’t believe that should punish them for the rest of their life.”
The Indiana State Teachers Association is working with Sen. Freeman to improve the legislation.
"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."
Ashley Nation says the bills could potentially stop a predator from getting a job at a school.
"These bills are great progress,” said Nation. “They are closing some holes that perpetrators are using to gain access to our children."
Both bills have been assigned to the Education and Career Development committee.
SB 342 already received a hearing, but records show no hearing has been scheduled for SB403.