The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Opinion

May 6, 2013

Editorial: Elwood case is reminder of background checks

When an employer hires an applicant, the action is usually based on the candidate’s qualifications and what the employee will bring to the success and reputation of the company.

When a school district hires a coach, the approach is similar; the employer looks at experience and how the coach will improve the school’s record while providing players with positive life skills. But when a coach’s position of trust is reportedly abused, it is time to reconsider the employment.

This is a cautious way of explaining and supporting the dismissal of Elwood High School girls basketball coach Thomas Kessinger, without labeling him guilty of the charges he currently faces of child seduction and official misconduct, both Class D felonies. He allegedly had a sexual relationship with one of his 17-year-old players. The Elwood Community Schools board terminated Kessinger’s coaching contract last week.

Questions have been raised over the girl’s involvement. Police found 1,500 texts exchanged between the two in the span of one week. The student reportedly had sex 10 to 15 times with Kessinger including at the school. School Superintendent Tom Austin indicated the district may seek punishment against the student for the incidents on school property. This is wrong and can only discourage other students from coming forward to report abuse.

Make no mistake: the student is a victim under Indiana law. Child seduction involves a suspect who is 18 or older, employed in this case by a school district and who engages in deviate sexual conduct with someone 16 to 18 years old. It is a law that attempts to address exactly what is alleged here.

But in this case, the suspect had been arrested twice previously on misdemeanor alcohol-related charges. That alone doesn’t relate to the pending charges. But it is enough of a reminder to school districts that every effort must be taken in ensuring that students are not placed in situations where ethical or morality questions can surface with a teacher, administrator or coach.

In this age of social media and online accessibility, it is not difficult to track and investigate the background of applicants for private or public jobs. Background checks should be mandatory particularly for teachers and staffers.

There may well have been no red flags for Kessinger’s employment. The school district may have looked at his qualifications as a former high school and college player and what he could bring to his home community.

But as we have seen dozens of time before, this is a clear reminder that school administrators, led by their superintendent, must be vigilant in ensuring the safety of students and protecting them against the horrors that child seduction cases can bring.

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