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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Police close South Calhoun Street in front of South Side High School after a shooting across the street.

Saturday, August 11, 2018 1:00 am

School safety measures pushed

Report urges drills, mental health screening, tip line

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

Some of the recommendations in the report are:

• Enhance and expand mental health services

• Increase funding flexibility for local law enforcement presence in schools

• Identify and implement a universal mental health screening tool for schools to use

• Require active-shooter drills in every school

• Create funding flexibility for school safety grants

• Embrace the Youth Risk Based Surveillance System as a comprehensive risk behavior surveillance tool in Indiana high schools

• Require schools to conduct a threat assessment by mid-2021

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana schools should be required to have annual active-shooter drills and conduct a threat assessment, and Indiana State Police should develop a school safety tip line, a report released Friday said.

These are just a few of 18 recommendations revealed by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

“Ensuring every one of our students has a safe place to learn and grow is of the utmost importance,” he said. “This assessment is an important step toward helping our schools be better prepared for the unknown.”

Following several deadly school shootings earlier this year, state officials embarked on a study of school safety. In May, a Noblesville West Middle School student brought two guns to school and opened fire, injuring a student and teacher.

A working group including the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and Indiana Department of Education finalized the report and recommendations. As a result, Holcomb ordered several next steps:

• The Department of Homeland Security will create an Indiana School Safety Hub to put state resources in one online location for schools and parents;

• The Integrated Public Safety Commission will develop a self-evaluation tool to maximize the effectiveness of each school's communications systems and activities.

• The Indiana State Police will set up and develop an anonymous tip line.

• The State Budget Agency will identify costs associated with the recommendations and how they might be funded, whether through existing programs or other local, state or federal sources. The governor will use the information as he sets legislative and administrative priorities for next year.

The recommendations were loosely organized in three categories: safety equipment and tools; policy or legislative considerations; and enhanced mental health services.

A team of state leaders and subject matter experts from across the state conducted in-person and phone interviews, online surveys, and community forums to gather feedback, according to a news release. More than 400 responses were collected from school administrators, educators, first responders, public safety officials and others.

And while the group learned that the needs of school districts can vary widely, the three categories of recommendations became clear once feedback was reviewed.

“To remain a national leader in school safety, Indiana must address gaps in areas that go beyond hardening our buildings and training to respond to incidents,” the group said in its report, saying that more access to mental health services and better information sharing emerged as consistent themes.

One key recommendation would require schools to provide a baseline level of professional mental health support to students and families through community mental health centers or providers.

The report also suggests changing state law to require that each school conduct at least one active-shooter drill per year as part of their two required annual man-made drills. The active-shooter drill would occur in the first semester, within 45 days of the start of school.

Last month, the governor announced the state would make hand-held metal detectors available at no cost to traditional public, charter and private schools that request them. The 3,231 metal detectors that have been requested by 369 school entities are expected to arrive at schools later this month. Schools that are interested, but did not place an order, will have another opportunity to do so later this fall.

In May, lawmakers made $35 million in low-interest loans available to schools to increase school safety through the Indiana Common School Fund and provided an additional $5 million to support school safety grants through the homeland security department.

A full audit of school safety plans is also underway.

nkelly@jg.net