State law now allows automatic suspension of teachers' licenses when charged with serious crimes

A new state law allows state education authorities to suspend a teacher's license if the teacher is charged with serious crimes, including violent felonies, sexual and drug offenses.

That will prevent accused educators from obtaining employment at any other school while under investigation for such crimes. The teacher's license would be reinstated if there's an acquittal.

State statute bars anyone without a valid and active license from working as a teacher, substitute teacher, paraprofessional or academic administrator in an Illinois public school. The Illinois State Board of Education also reports all licensure suspensions and revocations to a national database.

Previously, the state board had to wait until criminal proceedings were concluded before suspending or revoking a teacher's license, officials said.

Recent suburban cases of teacher misconduct include Juan Avendano, 63, of Aurora, a former kindergarten teacher at Bardwell Elementary School in Aurora charged with sexually abusing students, and former substitute teacher Carlos A. Bedoya, 63, of Lake in the Hills, who was charged with sexually abusing 10 students at Golfview Elementary School in Carpentersville. Bedoya was convicted this month of sexually assaulting a student, now 12, from August 2015 through June 2016. In Bedoya's case, five lawsuits have been filed and consolidated against him arguing school officials failed to take action to protect students.

The new law aims to strengthen those protections and provides school districts additional tools to avert misconduct by educators, said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat and the legislation's lead House sponsor.

"This legislation will help prevent the series of unfortunate cases we've seen recently by implementing a comprehensive approach to address gaps in the law that have put the safety of students at risk," Crespo said.

Senate Bill 456, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday, bans school boards from knowingly employing anyone found to have abused or neglected children by the Department of Children and Family Services or any other child welfare agency.

It also increases the frequency of background checks for school employees to every five years the employee remains with the same district. Previous state statute required school districts to conduct a background check only when a candidate applied for a job.

Illinois State Police will continue to notify districts when anyone for whom they previously requested a background check is arrested.

School districts or regional superintendents also must check statewide databases of sex offenders, murderers and violent offenders against youths every five years for all employees, and Children's Advocacy Centers counselors/social workers must be involved from day one in every case of sexual misconduct against minors.

Other provisions of the law include:

• School districts must review existing policies and procedures concerning sexual abuse investigations.

• School districts must report to the state board of education when an educator is convicted of specific crimes, including sex crimes against children, instead of only if that misconduct resulted in the employee's resignation or dismissal.

• Creating the Make Sexual and Severe Physical Abuse Fully Extinct Task Force to review best practices for preventing sexual abuse of students in a school-related setting.

• The state board of education must conduct random audits of Professional Educator Licensees to verify a licensee's fulfillment of required professional development hours.

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