New law helps protect students from sexual abuse

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

The problem has hit home for many school districts across the state of Indiana: an employee entrusted to help create a safe environment has violated that trust and victimized a student, often sexually.

It happened last spring when school custodian Brady Blu Milam, 41, of Anderson, was fired by Daleville Community Schools after he, allegedly, had sex with a 14-year-old girl at the high school. Milam, charged with two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and two counts of child solicitation, is scheduled for a jury trial to begin Oct. 11 in Delaware Circuit Court 5.

In Indiana, a serious flaw in providing a safe educational environment for all students is being addressed by changes in state law to strengthen background checks of job applicants.

Prior to this change in the law, Indiana K-12 schools were required to perform only limited checks. Out-of-state records of teachers were not investigated, meaning that a teacher accused of child solicitation in Texas (or another state) could get a job in Indiana without school administrators, parents or students being aware of the accusation.

Now that the law has been revised, a more extensive background check is required on any prospective school employee who would have ongoing contact with children. One down side of the new law is that it gives school districts three months after the hiring of an employee to conduct the background probe.

While it’s understandable that schools need to hire quickly late in the summer break to fill classroom and facility needs, the three-month gap between hiring and the background check could give an unscrupulous school employee enough time to start an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Specifically, under the new law, the school district must check with the following:

• The Indiana Department of Child Services to determine whether there are any substantiated reports of child abuse or child neglect against the applicant;

• The counterpart to the IDCS in any other state where the applicant has been a resident since the age of 18;

• The department of education in any other states where the teacher was licensed to determine whether the license was ever revoked or suspended.

Add these requirements to the standard criminal background check, and it’s far less likely that someone who has been charged with a sexual crime or a crime against children could gain employment and access to children at Indiana schools.

Another important provision of the revised law in Indiana limits the use of confidentiality agreements between schools and teachers suspected of inappropriate interaction or relationships with students.

In the past, such confidentiality pacts have often been used to get teachers to resign quietly while keeping a black mark off their record. This, of course, leads unsuspecting administrators at other schools to hire the suspect teachers.

The revised law, of course, serves as no guarantee that a teacher or other school employee who has a clean record won’t victimize a child. But at least it will make it more difficult for would-be school employees with blemished records to get jobs in Indiana.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.