A recent story by WTHR indicated that there have been at least five incidents involving guns in schools in Indiana during the new 2019-20 school year. WTHR reported that on August 7, 2019, a student with a gun was stopped near Muncie Central High School; on August 8, a loaded gun was found in an Arsenal Tech student’s backpack; on August 15, police say a gun was found in the book bag of a Lawrence Central student; and on August 20, a student with a gun was stopped at North Central High School and a student with a gun was arrested at Ben Davis High School. As WTHR further noted, this comes after two Indiana shootings occurred at Noblesville West Middle School and Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond in 2018. In response to these school shootings, WTHR reports that Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb made a plan available to schools in which the State provided one handheld metal detector for every 250 students at any school that requested the devices. (Rich Nye, “Are state issued metal detectors being used by the schools that received them?” WTHR Aug. 22, 2019, 3:16 p.m.) https://www.wthr.com/article/are-state-issued-metal-detectors-being-used-schools-received-them
Although reports like these are alarming, there are many Indiana laws in place that attempt to make schools safer for students to attend. In response to the increase in school shootings, Indiana law now requires that each school in a school corporation must conduct at least one active shooter drill within 90 calendar days after the beginning of the school year. I.C. § 20-34-3-20. Additionally, each Indiana school corporation is required to develop a written emergency preparedness plan for the school corporation and each school in the corporation. At a minimum, these plans must contain: (1) appropriate warning systems; (2) procedures for notifying other agencies and organizations; (3) posting of evacuation routes; (4) emergency preparedness instruction for staff and students; (5) public information procedures; (6) steps that will be taken prior to a decision to evacuate buildings or dismiss classes; and (7) provisions to protect the safety and well-being of staff, students, and the public including from man-made occurrences, or student disturbances, weapons, weapons of mass destruction, contamination of the water or air supply, and hostage or kidnapping incidents. 511 I.A.C. 6.1-2-5.
Additionally, each school corporation in Indiana is required to establish a “safe school committee” which must develop a plan and policy that addresses unsafe conditions, crime prevention, school violence, bullying, criminal organization activity, child abuse, child sexual abuse, and other issues that prevent the maintenance of a safe school. These plans also address methods to encourage involvement by the community and students, development of relationships between students and school faculty and staff, and use of problem-solving teams. Each school safety committee is also required to provide a copy of floor plans for each building located on the school’s property to local law enforcement agencies and the fire department having jurisdiction over the school. Guidelines developed by the Indiana Department of Education to assist schools in preparing their plans must include age appropriate, research-based information that assists school corporations and safe school committees in developing and implementing bullying prevention programs, establishing investigation and reporting procedures relating to bullying, and adopting discipline rules. I.C. § 5-2-10.1-12.
Indiana law also provides other requirements for school employees and teachers to keep students safe. For example, in order for teachers to obtain or renew a teaching license, they must show evidence that they have successfully completed training in CPR, removing a foreign body causing an obstruction in an airway, the Heimlich maneuver, and the use of an automated external defibrillator. I.C. § 20-28-5-3. Additionally, each school corporation is required to train school employees who are likely to have direct, ongoing contact with children on the duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect and on recognizing the signs of child abuse or neglect at least once every two years. I.C. § 20-28-3-4.5. Also, each school corporation must require that all teachers who are employed at schools that provide instruction to students in any combination of grades 5-12 attend or participate in at least two hours of youth suicide awareness and prevention training every three school years.
I have the opportunity to visit 100 + school buildings per year as part of my legal representation of teachers in Indiana. It is my observation that schools are making more and more efforts to secure school buildings by having locked entry doors, security cameras, mandatory visitor check-in and badging required to be in schools, the presence of school resource officers, and well-trained staff and students on how to respond to an emergency situation. Having three school-aged children, school safety is a big area of concern for me. If you ever have questions about safety in schools your children attend, contact your school corporation and request information regarding the school’s safety plan.
In 2018, Indiana Governor Holcomb issued a comprehensive report with multiple recommendations for keeping Indiana schools safe. This 134-page report is available at https://www.in.gov/dhs/files/2018-Indiana-School-Safety-Recommendations.pdf Indiana has made great strides in promoting school safety, but still has room for improvement. Until we can assure that every possible thing is being done to keep our children safe at school, we must continue to make progress on this issue. All children deserve to go to schools in which they can learn in a safe environment.
Author Eric Hylton’s practice primarily involves representing employers and employees in labor and employment matters. His primary focus is on labor and employment issues affecting teachers throughout the State of Indiana. In addition, he represents both employers and employees in cases pending before State and Federal Courts, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.
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