An Illinois state senator said Monday that he plans to introduce legislation to “close a loophole” that allowed two suburban districts to employ a teacher awaiting trial on attempted murder charges.
Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, said he’d had a number of discussions over the weekend with his legislative staff about crafting a bill to give the Illinois State Board of Education leeway to suspend the license of an educator who is charged with “heinous, serious and violent” crimes.
He said he was motivated to consider such a bill after learning that a middle school teacher accused of shooting another man seven times following a traffic dispute in Tinley Park had been teaching at a Lyons middle school until last week.
Currently, ISBE can only strip an educator’s license after they have been convicted — not simply charged — with a crime like attempted murder.
The teacher in the Lyons case, 40-year-old Andres Rodriguez, also worked last year in Cicero School District 99 while out on $500,000 bail.
Officials in Cicero, which dismissed Rodriguez in June, and Lyons School District 103, which hired him two months later, have said they were not aware of the teacher’s pending criminal case until after he’d started working.
District 103 placed Rodriguez on paid administrative leave Friday — a day after officials learned of his pending criminal case, interim superintendent Patrick Patt said.
Sandoval said he was alarmed that Rodriguez had been permitted to teach children in either district and singled out District 103, whose interim superintendent said the teacher had passed a background check.
He called the district’s hire of Rodriguez a “total failure” to protect the children of Lyons and said he wanted ISBE to investigate why Rodriguez — who has been paid by three districts since his arrest in July 2017 — has been able to find work despite his pending criminal case.
“The public safety of our children is a priority,” Sandoval said. “Anyone who is around children needs to have serious background checks.”
District 103 officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday, but said last week in a statement that they considered the safety and security of students and staff a top priority.
The senator is still in the early stages of conceiving and crafting the bill, so it’s unclear yet how it might seek to rectify his concerns over the hire of teachers charged with serious crimes.
One option, he said, would be to give ISBE the ability to temporarily suspend the licenses of educators who have been charged with violent crimes, but whose cases are still being adjudicated. Another might be to require school district applicants to disclose not only whether they have been convicted of a crime, but also if they are currently charged with one.
ISBE spokeswoman Jacyln Matthews said the agency had previously discussed the possibility of suspending an educator’s license temporarily while it conducts an investigation into their conduct.
“Educator misconduct is absolutely on our agenda as an agency for the spring (legislative) session,” she said.
Sandoval said he hadn’t decided yet whether he’d introduce his bill during the fall veto session or wait until the new legislative session in January.
He and other elected county and local officials were to hold a news conference at the Lyons library Monday night to call for an investigation into Rodriguez’s hire and advocate for the passage of a state law requiring that school district applicants disclose any pending felony charges they may face.
“There needs to be a procedure or protocol put in place where (if) somebody is accused or charged with a heinous crime that there’s some notation on their state teaching license that lets people know very simply that this is a pending matter,” Lyons Mayor Chris Getty said. “Even though that person is innocent until their court case is completed, there still should be some notation to area school districts that this is a pending matter and this is going on.”
Getty said he believes District 103 needs to take ownership of its decision to hire Rodriguez and that officials should be held accountable.
“In government, we must hold those that serve us accountable, and I think there should be some people held accountable so this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We should take action at the state level so this doesn’t happen — not in my district and not in any district. We need more checks and balances on who gets hired within the schools, especially elementary schools.”
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October 22, 2018 at 07:45PM