June 25, 2024

No one told state education officials about alleged abuse by an IPS teacher. And no law requires it

The Indiana Department of Child Services did not inform the Indiana Department of Education about a substantiated report of neglect against an Indianapolis Public Schools teacher, despite a policy that requires child protective staff to inform state education officials about such claims. - Lee V. Gaines / WFYI

The Indiana Department of Child Services did not inform the Indiana Department of Education about a substantiated report of neglect against an Indianapolis Public Schools teacher, despite a policy that requires child protective staff to inform state education officials about such claims.

Lee V. Gaines / WFYI

No one told the Indiana Department of Education that a teacher at Indianapolis Public Schools filmed and encouraged the alleged abuse of a second grader with disabilities. The state officials who govern teacher licenses found out from the media.

Neither IPS nor the Indiana Department of Child Services — which investigated the incident and substantiated a claim of neglect against the teacher — told state education officials.

WFYI confirmed this breakdown in communication goes against DCS policy. Child protective staff are supposed to report substantiated claims of abuse or neglect involving a licensed teacher in the course of their employment or on school grounds to the Indiana Secretary of Education.

But notifying the IDOE about substantiated or alleged cases of abuse by teachers is not mandated by state law.

Kelly Mosesso, a parent of a student at the IPS school where the abuse happened, said she’s concerned about DCS’s failure to inform the education department.

“It's very frustrating because that communication is sort of the backbone of our checks and balances, which keep everybody accountable,” she said. “And so if that's not done right, then, you know, it leaves our children vulnerable.”

DCS did not respond to a WFYI question about why they did not communicate this information to IDOE. Jeni O’Malley, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email that state law prohibits them from commenting. She wrote that DCS “takes immediate corrective action if we learn of any delays in reports being sent to another appropriate entity.”
 

No requirement to report


Julious Johnican was a teacher at George Washington Carver Montessori School 87. In a cell phone video recorded by Johnican last year, he is heard encouraging another student to keep beating up a second-grade student with disabilities, who is sobbing. Johnican was charged late last month with felony neglect of a dependent for allegedly failing to intervene in the altercation between the two students.

DCS began investigating the video incident in November and the report was completed in February. The investigation determined that Johnican neglected the students. A DCS investigator wrote in their report that Johnican “knowingly and willingly engaged in behaviors towards the victims that jeopardized their overall well-being while in his care as a teacher at IPS 87.”

But a spokesperson for IDOE, Molly Williams, confirmed that DCS did not tell them about the substantiated claim. Rather, the department learned about the incident from news reports in mid-April.

DCS also failed to report the substantiated claim of neglect against Johnican to law enforcement — despite an agency policy that requires DCS employees notify police of reports of abuse and neglect and prosecutors of substantiated claims.

A spokesperson for IPS, Alpha Garrett, said that the district didn’t report the substantiated DCS claim to IDOE either. She said school districts aren’t required to submit this information to the state’s department of education.

The district is “in conversations with the IDOE on identifying the process to report substantiated cases,” Garrett wrote in an email.

After School 87 administrators found out about the cell phone video, Johnican was suspended and did not return to the classroom. But he resigned before the district could begin termination proceedings, according to Garrett.

The family of the second grader filed a lawsuit against IPS and Johnican.

 

‘Every tool necessary’


Williams, the spokesperson for IDOE, told WFYI last month that state law only allows the department to automatically revoke the licenses of teachers convicted of certain crimes. Felony neglect, which Johnican was charged with, isn’t one of them.

Williams said state law may allow the department to potentially revoke or suspend his license. Last month, she said IDOE filed a complaint against Johnican's license with the Office of Administrative Law Proceedings seeking revocation. Williams said that proceeding is pending. 

Johnican had a valid teaching license as of mid-June, according to the state educator license database. Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) co-authored a 2023 law that specified what crimes and other forms of misconduct would disqualify someone from working at a school, and allows districts to share information with other schools about misconduct committed by former employees. It also requires school employees to notify their employer if they’re the subject of a substantiated DCS report of abuse or neglect, among other measures

When informed by WFYI that DCS did not communicate with the IDOE regarding Johnican’s substantiated claim of neglect, Freeman said it’s important for the department in charge of teacher licensing to have this information.

“Giving the Department of Education every tool necessary to ensure that the people in front of our children and around our children are proper and good people that aren't going to hurt them —  I think whatever we’ve got to do to get there is a very worthwhile goal,” he said.

Freeman said it’s up for debate as to what kinds of substantiated claims should bar someone from being an educator, but knowing the information is still crucial.

“We need to know what's in somebody's background,” Freeman said. “A substantiated DCS claim probably matters and matters a lot.”

Mosesso, the parent from School 87, worries this incident never would have come to the attention of law enforcement or the IDOE had it not been for the lawsuit and subsequent news media attention — and that other similar incidents could have fallen through the cracks.

“It makes me wonder, you know, how many other times has something like this happened,” Mosesso said. “Once the abuse or neglect allegation is substantiated, then if their license isn’t revoked, then where are they now? They could be teaching in another school in our state, or somewhere else, and it’s very scary.”

This story was updated on Tuesday, June 26, 2024 to reflect new information from IDOE regarding the status of Johnican's teaching license. 

Contact WFYI education reporter Lee V. Gaines at lgaines@wfyi.org.

 

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