News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

December 14, 2012

ISU reviews several policies

University trustees to hear proposed changed to policies relating to minors on campus, ‘whistleblowers’

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State University trustees today will consider a proposed policy related to minors on campus and protection of children.

Trustees requested the policy in response to a Penn State child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Other colleges across the country are developing similar policies.

The board is expected to approve the policy to go out for university comment, with final action in February.

It reads in part, “This policy is designed to present clear instructions and protocols in the event that persons may become aware of any child abuse or neglect exhibited toward minors who are on our campus or in our programs, and to protect against inappropriate behaviors toward such minors.”

Various provisions deal with background checks and reporting requirements based on Indiana law.

Melony Sacopulos, university legal counsel, said the policy recognizes “that minors need special protections in place for their safety.” It also provides a structure, and consistency, in how programs involving minors are administered.

In the wake of the Penn State scandal, “It has been common for other universities to develop similar policies,” she said.

The biggest change, she said, is that anyone, including volunteers, who works with minors in a program — whether it is offered by ISU or an outside group on campus — must undergo criminal background checks.

ISU already requires such background checks for all new employees, she said, and she believes that most ISU personnel who work with minors have had background checks “unless they have been with the university a long time.”

But volunteers who work with minors “may or may not have background checks,” she said.

Primarily, the new policy affects organizations that use ISU facilities to offer programs involving minors. Under the changes, anyone who offers a program involving minors on campus must do background checks on those who have direct contact with minors. That will be required.

The policy states: “Unless there is an exception provided in procedures, programs involving minors must ensure that all faculty, staff, students, volunteers or other personnel who will work with minors have been subject to a criminal background check and sex offender registry check within the least three years.”

It further states, “A program may not allow the participation … of anyone whose criminal background check and/or sex offender registry check includes a record of sexually-based offenses or crimes against children.”

If the check includes a record of other offenses, then programs should consult with Human Resources to determine if those offenses should preclude participation, the policy states.

The policy doesn’t change reporting requirements for those who become aware of child abuse or neglect, Sacopulos said, but “it brings to the forefront how you report.”

Indiana law requires any person who has reason to believe a child is a victim of abuse or neglect “has an affirmative duty” to make an oral report to Child Protective Services or to local law enforcement, including ISU police, the policy states.

Another provision states, “Both Indiana law and this policy require that faculty, staff, students, volunteers and other university personnel report any suspected abuse of minors to the ISU director of public safety. The ISU director of public safety will then report such suspected abuse to Child  Protective Services, which will then conduct an investigation.”

The policy is a general one, Sacopulos said, and specific procedures will be developed at a later time that go into more detail.

Trustees also will receive a proposed “whistleblowers” policy aimed at protecting from retaliation those who report suspected “wrongdoing” (violation of law or university policy).

“It protects individuals who make good faith reports [about suspected wrongdoing] from employment or academic retaliation,” Sacopulos said.

While state law does provide such “whistleblower” protection for employees of public colleges and universities, ISU believes “it would probably be beneficial to reiterate that in policy form and provide some guidance” regarding how — and to whom — employees should report suspected wrongdoing, Sacopulos said.

There will be related procedures to go along with the policy. Trustees will be asked to approve the policy for university comment, with final action in February.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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