Governor Holcomb unveils school safety measures in 2019 agenda

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Zionsville West Middle School started Thursday on lockdown.

A container of bullets had fell out of a car, ending up in the parking lot, according to school and law enforcement officials. Police ultimately determined there was no threat.

“While I have much respect for the faculty of Zionsville West Middle School and hardworking law enforcement, I do wish there was a bit more reassurance offered to the students,” Zionsville mother Jenn Lutton said in part. “I know my son is a bit nervous to go to school tomorrow; I’m sure that would be the case even had students been approached by counselors. That said, plans of action often offer a sense of comfort and confidence in said situations.”

School leaders used their handheld metal detector wands to check everyone already on campus and every student before they entered the school Thursday morning. The devices were offered to schools across Indiana through the governor’s program.

“About 97 percent plus of the schools took us up on the offer and we once again just to underscore that local responsibility, we left it up to locals to determine what protocol they would follow, but I wanted to make sure that the best way that you can control what happens inside a school is to control what gets in a school,” Governor Eric Holcomb said.

School safety played a large part of the governor’s “2019 Next Level Agenda” he unveiled Thursday.

“It has to. Well I mean, what we’ve noticed, what the report revealed, is there are resources very close to our school corporations, our schools themselves individually speaking, through FSSA’s efforts, through mental health community centers, what we have to do is make sure that those are connected that the dots are connected so people know they’re not in this alone,” Governor Holcomb said.

A working group convened by the governor released a school safety report over the summer. It outlined 18 recommendations. Governor Holcomb said he plans to enact all of them. Some are complete, some are in progress and some will require legislation.

The governor proposes in part legislation requiring school districts to contract directly with local mental health providers, requiring each school to conduct at least one active shooter drill per year and requiring schools conduct threat assessments by June 30, 2021 as a condition for grants from the SSSG Fund. (You can see a comprehensive list of the recommendations here.)

“Where we’re going to be heavily leaning into, and where FSSA has already been for months since this report was released back earlier this summer, they have been in community after community after community looking at the schools letting them know what resources are already there. what Indiana has proven is we’ll continue to increase the funding that is needed for school resource officers, etcetera, but what’s out there right now in many cases are the mental health resources that are there that we have to make that connection,” Governor Holcomb said.

One Noblesville parent group said the school safety agenda falls short, though. “Noblesville Stands Together” was formed after the shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in May.

“We give the governor credit for designing some innovative ideas regarding mental health and school security, but Indiana cannot have a truly comprehensive plan to address school violence if we continue to ignore the role of firearms,” parent Jenny Sochocki said.

The group said the governor’s plan didn’t address access to guns. It’s been calling for a plan to address school violence including mental health, school security and responsible gun ownership. Noblesville Stands Together said it’s seeking legislation to close loopholes in Indiana’s firearm background check system and provide criminal penalty for allowing a child to access a negligently stored firearm.

“The gun debate can be divisive and polarizing, and we aren’t out to ban guns. But we need the governor to lead a civil discussion that will produce better answers on gun violence. It will take leadership, but we are confident that Governor Holcomb has the courage to deliver on this,” Sochocki said.

You can read the full list of recommendations released this summer here.

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