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DOJ Investigation Forces Indiana Juvenile Teacher License Upgrade

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's conclusion that prison officials had the authority to require prison teachers to obtain a special education license. The court reversed the lower court's holding, however, that prison officials were required to comply with recommendations of the State Employees' Appeals Commission (SEAC).

On February 10, 2004, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) notified Indiana officials of an investigation into conditions of confinement at the Logansport Juvenile Intake/Diagnostic Facility, the South Bend Juvenile Correctional Facility and the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility.

On September 9, 2005, DOJ issued findings and concluded that conditions at the facilities violated various constitutional and federal statutory rights of juvenile offenders.

On February 8, 2006, the DOJ and Indiana entered into an agreement to remedy the violations. To ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 USC § 1400, et seq., the agreement required, inter ilia, that "all licensed teachers at the facility obtain certification in special education by the Indiana Department of Education within 180 days of the date of this Agreement." The same day, the Department of Corrections (DOC) Education Director notified DOC teachers of the requirement and gave them until August 7, 2006 to comply.

In February and March, 2006, several "Teachers filed merit employee complaints objecting to the DOC's new requirement that they obtain a special education license. The State Personnel Department denied all of the complaints. The Teachers filed appeals to the SEAC." The SEAC concluded "that the DOC Commission has the authority to change the job description of any department position if he deems the change necessary for the efficient operation of the DOC." The SEAC also "highly recommend(ed)" that the DOC follow its recommendations that it: (1) provide additional funding and paid time off for the teachers so they may obtain any additional education necessary to qualify for the special education license; and (2) establish some sort of system allowing institutional teachers to apply for a waiver of the special education license requirement under five special circumstances.

The Teachers appealed the decision to a state trial court. The court affirmed the SEAC's determination that the DOC has the authority to order all institution teachers to obtain special education licenses. The court also held that the SEAC's recommendations for funding, paid time off and waivers are mandatory and must be followed by the DOC.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the SEAC's decision that DOC had the authority to require the teachers to obtain a special education license. It held, however, that the trial court improperly ordered DOC to comply with the SEAC's recommendations. See: Pierce v. State of Indiana Department of Correction, 885 NE.2d 77. 2008 lnd.App. LEXIS 957 (IN CA 4/30/08)

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Related legal case

Pierce v. State of Indiana Department of Correction