New Law Imposes Various Measures to Address Student Safety, Including Educator License Suspension, Sexual Abuse Investigation Procedures, and More
September 25, 2019
On August 23, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed into law Public Act 101-531 (Act) which puts into place a number of measures aimed at increasing student safety.
Effective immediately, the Act makes the following changes:
- Immediate License Suspension: As reported by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Act authorizes ISBE to suspend an educator’s license immediately if the educator is charged with certain criminal offenses, including certain sex crimes, drug offenses, and Class X felonies, until the person’s criminal charges are adjudicated. The Act adds certain criminal offenses to the list of “sex or other offenses” defined in Section 21B-80 of the School Code.
- Background Checks: The Act requires that school districts perform checks of the Statewide Sex Offender Database and the Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Database for each employee every five years they are employed with a school district, rather than solely upon application for initial employment.
- Indicated Findings and Conditional Employment: Currently, Section 10-21.9 of the School Code states that no school board shall knowingly employ a person who has been convicted of any offense that would subject him or her to license suspension or revocation under Section 21B-80, or who has been found to be the perpetrator of sexual or physical abuse of any minor under 18 years of age pursuant to proceedings under Article II of the Juvenile Court Act. The Section has been amended to also state that as a condition of employment, each school board must consider the status of a person who has been issued an indicated finding of abuse or neglect of a child by the Department of Children and Family Services under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (ANCRA) or by a child welfare agency of another jurisdiction. Boards must also consider the status of a person to student teach who has been issued such an indicated finding.
- Notification to ISBE of Criminal Conviction: The Act requires that school superintendents or the applicable regional superintendent notify ISBE when a license holder has been convicted of a crime set forth in Section 21B-80 of the School Code. The notice must be given within 15 days after receipt of a record of conviction, or within 15 days of checking the Statewide Sex Offender Database or the Statewide Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Database and finding a registration, at which time the State Superintendent may initiate licensure suspension and revocation proceedings. If the receipt of the record of conviction or finding of child abuse is received within 6 months after the grant of or renewal of a license, the State Superintendent of Education may rescind the license holder’s license.
- Failure to Report: The Act now requires that, if a school board determines that any non-licensed school district employee has willfully or negligently failed to report an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect, then the school board may dismiss that employee immediately upon that determination. The Act also expressly permits ISBE to suspend an educator’s license for willful or negligent failure to report an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect for up to 5 years. The Act defines “negligent failure to report an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect” as occurring when a school district employee personally observes an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect and reasonably believes, in his or her professional or official capacity, that the instance constitutes an act of child abuse or neglect under ANCRA, and he or she, without willful intent, fails to immediately report or cause a report to be made of the suspected abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), as required by ANCRA.
- ISBE Audit of Licensees: The Act requires ISBE to conduct random audits to verify a licensee’s fulfillment of the professional development hours required under Section 21B-45 of the School Code, and to notify educators that their licenses have lapsed if the results of such audit show that they have not completed the required number of professional development hours or did not provide sufficient proof of such completion.
- Providers of ISBE approved Professional Development Activities: The Act requires ISBE-approved providers of professional development activities for the renewal of Professional Educator Licenses to now register annually with ISBE prior to offering any professional development opportunities in the current fiscal year.
- Sexual Abuse Investigations at School: The Act requires that certain procedural steps occur when investigating an alleged incident of sexual abuse alleged to have been perpetrated by school personnel (including a school vendor or volunteer), including the following:
- Requires that if a mandated reporter within a school has knowledge of an alleged incident of sexual abuse, the reporter must call the DCFS hotline immediately after obtaining the minimal information necessary to make a report, including the names of the affected parties and the allegations.
- For schools in a county with an accredited Children’s Advocacy Center (Center), mandates that every alleged incident of sexual abuse reported to DCFS or a law enforcement agency and accepted for investigation be referred to the Center pursuant to the county’s multidisciplinary team’s protocol under the Children’s Advocacy Center Act.
- Requires that the Center facilitate communication between the multidisciplinary team investigating the alleged incident of sexual abuse and the referring school’s Title IX officer (or designee), school resource officer, or personnel leading the school’s investigation.
- Prohibits a school from interviewing an alleged victim regarding details of the alleged incident of sexual abuse until after the completion of the forensic interview of the victim is conducted by the Center (although it does not prohibit a school from requesting information from the alleged victims or their parent or guardian to ensure the safety and well-being of the alleged victim at school during an investigation).
- Requires that, upon request, schools inform law enforcement agency or DCFS investigators of any evidence the school gathered pertaining to an alleged incident of sexual abuse, as permitted by federal and state law.
- Requires that specific steps be taken for the multidisciplinary team to communicate with the school district regarding the completion of forensic interviews of student victims, provides that such interviews be conducted by the multidisciplinary team except in limited circumstances, and encourages school personnel to view electronic recordings of forensic interviews in lieu of conducting their own separate interviews when possible and permissible.
- Requires that DCFS and any applicable law enforcement agency notify the school when an investigation of an alleged incident of sexual abuse is complete, including notification of the outcome of the investigation.
- Identifies specific procedures for the approval of viewing the electronic recordings of forensic interviews, and procedures for schools to interview the alleged victims when necessary, including having a child advocate present during the interview. The Act states that a child advocate may be a school social worker, a school or equally qualified psychologist, or a person in a position that ISBE has identified as an appropriate advocate for the student during a school’s investigation into an alleged incident of sexual abuse.
- Policy Review: The Act requires that each school district review all existing policies and procedures concerning sexual abuse investigations every two years.
- Annual Review of ANCRA materials: The Act requires ISBE to make available materials detailing the information necessary to enable notification to DCFS of an alleged incident of sexual abuse, and requires that each school ensure that mandated reporters review ISBE’s materials and materials developed by DCFS at least once annually.
- Teacher Dismissal Hearings: In the case of charges involving sexual abuse or severe physical abuse of a student or a person under the age of 18, the Act requires that hearing officers in tenured teacher dismissal proceedings make alternative hearing procedures to protect a witness who is a student or who is under the age of 18 from intimidation or trauma. The Act also prohibits questioning about the witness’s sexual behavior or predisposition, unless the evidence is offered to prove that someone other than the teacher subject to the dismissal hearing engaged in the charge at issue. The Act also provides that these protections will be made when a student or individual under the age of 18 is a witness in a dismissal hearing under Article 24A.
- Teacher Dismissal Procedures Extended to Charter Schools:The Act modifies the provisions of the School Code stating the laws from which charter schools are not exempt to now include sections 24-12, “Removal or Dismissal of Teacher in Contractual Continued Service” and 34-85, “Removal for Cause; Notice and Hearing; Suspension.”
- Resignation During the School Term: The Act adds procedural steps for when a teacher may have their license suspended if they resign during the school term without the concurrence of the board in order to accept another teaching assignment. Section 24-14 provides that a tenured teacher may resign at any time by obtaining concurrence of the board or by serving at least 30 days’ written notice upon the board secretary, but that no teacher may resign during the school term, without the concurrence of the board, in order to accept another teaching assignment. This section now also states that any teacher terminating said service not in accordance with this Section may be referred by the board to the State Superintendent of Education, and that the State Superintendent or designee must convene an informal evidentiary hearing no later than 90 days after receipt of a resolution by the board. If the State Superintendent or designee finds that the teacher resigned during the school term without concurrence of the board to accept another teaching assignment, the State Superintendent must suspend the teacher’s license for one calendar year. The teacher may also agree to a lesser licensure sanction at the discretion of the State Superintendent, in lieu of a hearing and finding.
- Creates the “Make Sexual and Severe Physical Abuse Fully Extinct (Make S.A.F.E.)” Task Force: The Act creates this Task Force, which must issue a report by September 2020 that includes best practices for preventing and addressing sexual and severe physical abuse in school-related settings or by school-related perpetrators and for support for students who have suffered sexual or severe physical abuse in a school-related setting or by a school-related perpetrator.
- Personnel Records: Section 40/8 of the Personnel Records Review Act requires employers to review personnel records before releasing information to a third party and, except when ordered to a party in a legal action or arbitration, delete disciplinary reports, letters of reprimand, or other records of disciplinary action that are more than 4 years old. Under the Act, this requirement now does not apply to a school district or an authorized employee or agent of a school district who is sharing information related to an incident or an attempted incident of sexual abuse or severe physical abuse. Additionally, Section 40/9 prohibits employers from gathering or keeping a record of an employee’s associations, political activities, publications, communication, or nonemployment activities unless the employee provides written authorization to do so. Under the Act, that prohibition now does not apply to activities or associations with individuals or groups involved in the physical, sexual, or other exploitation of a minor.