IN Focus: Donnelly, Young discuss school safety after Noblesville shooting

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. – After last month's shooting at Noblesville West Middle School, elected officials from Indiana are scrutinizing the issue of school safety to try and find new ways to protect students and teachers from the threat of an active shooter.

In the video above, Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) share their thoughts on the issue of school safety.

"We need to continue to try to figure out how to keep our children safe," said Donnelly in an interview this past week. "How do we make it so you're not just able to take a wad of cash and go to any of our country fairgrounds and buy weapons right off the table there? We need to make sure our children are protected."

"From a policy standpoint, we have provided substantial resources to school corporations, to harden our schools," said Young in an interview the day of the shooting. "The one thing we really need to get an answer to as much as anything is why? Why do episodes like this happen? What inspires a young person to go after and target another young person?"

Meantime, officials with Noblesville schools sent letters home to parents Thursday telling them that they would be examining the district’s safety protocols.

The letter went on to state that “any decisions regarding modifications to our safety practices will be evaluated through our school safety committee and will be based on what our law enforcement partners and school safety specialists recommend.”

As the district mulls any potential changes, state and local officials are also pressing to come up with answers on how to keep kids safe.

Earlier this year, Governor Eric Holcomb (R-IN) challenged a task force that includes the Indiana Department of Education, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, state police, and the National Association of School Resource Officers to come up with a new set of school safety recommendations by August 1.

One focus of the task force will be having more resources devoted to the mental health of students.

“We know that it’s very important, and we understand that it’s a key factor that we reach these children that we relate to these children, that we understand our students better,” said press secretary Adam Baker with the Indiana Department of Education.

Baker said much of the conversation when it comes to school safety has typically surrounded securing schools and structural safety measures. While the recommendations sent out by the task force will certainly include those measures, they also want to focus on what happens once a student is already inside a school.

“We want to be able to speak to these children on a more personal level and we know schools need those sorts of resources and support,” Baker said.

School safety has been a frequent and ongoing topic in Indiana.

Governor Holcomb requested $5 million for school safety improvements after the school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida. And, two weeks ago, the Indiana legislature passed a bill on school safety during a special session, a move that was deemed necessary after lawmakers failed to do so during normal session. Those like Teresa Meredith, the head of the Indiana State Teachers Association, say any and all solutions need to be brought to the table.

“We want to teach. That’s our number one priority. We want school to be a safe place for our students and for us to be, so that’s at the end of the day what we are wanting…Until you actually put some action in place to make something change, nothing will change,” Meredith said.

One of the things Meredith says needs to be looked at is stricter laws geared towards the adults whose guns fall into the hands of children. She says the shooting at Noblesville West is a perfect example.

“Where is the accountability for the person who owns that weapon, we’re not hearing any conversation about that and there needs to be,” she said.

Here is the full statement sent to parents by Noblesville Schools:

"We wanted to provide a few updates regarding our incident at West last week.

West students and staff returned to school yesterday and are focusing this week on counseling and team building. We so appreciate the care from the community for our staff and students and have really felt your love and support.

We are happy to share that injured student Ella Whistler’s parents issued a statement that she is now in stable condition. Please continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time for them.

Counseling services are still available for all district staff, students and parents. Please contact your school counselor if you would like more details.

We have received a tremendous outpouring from parents, the community and even national groups wanting to launch safety fundraisers, advocating for specific safety systems, volunteering to join safety groups, wanting to meet with leadership to discuss safety procedures, wanting to host events at our schools, and more.

Please know that we appreciate all this concern and support. Right now, we are focused on ensuring students and staff are receiving the emotional support they need, and that all district students successfully finish out the school year, including next week’s graduation.

We are also still in the process of investigating last week’s incident. As is our standard practice following any incident, we will thoroughly examine and evaluate our safety protocols. Our initial review shows that administrators, teachers and students followed our safety procedures that we practice regularly.

As you know, Noblesville Schools works closely with law enforcement experts. Any decisions regarding modifications to our safety practices will be evaluated through our school safety committee and will be based on what our law enforcement partners and school safety specialists recommend.

We appreciate your patience in giving us the needed time to evaluate this incident and any proposed changes. We will be scheduling another public safety forum over the summer in collaboration with law enforcement and will be sharing more information on this going forward."