IRVINGTON, Ind. – Two high school students shot and killed a classmate and injured eight others at a charter school in a Colorado community. A school resource officer was not stationed at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch, however the school does employ private security.
How many of Indiana’s 71 charter schools have school resource officers, also known as SROs? The Indiana Department of Education says they don’t track the number of SROs in schools. They say it’s not required by Indiana law to have one, and it can be costly.
Indiana schools are working to become more secure in the wake of yet another deadly school shooting and for smaller districts and charter schools, that’s a challenge.
“That should never happen, but it does,” said Chief Operations Officer of Irvington Community Schools Tim Mulherin.
Officer Robert Bowser is the school resource officer at Irvington Community Schools, one of the largest public charter schools in the state.
“When there is a problem, we can react to it,” said officer Bowser.
Bowser is an armed officer who plays a key role on all three school campuses. He’s able to protect students because of a matching grant, without that money his position would not exist.
“We’re fortunate enough here for the state secured school safety grant for five or six years and I think more schools are applying, you see private schools applying,” said Bowser.
Irvington was the first public charter in the state to hire an SRO in 2011. A resource that Mulherin says is and continues to be critical.
“Today is just different and we’re having way too many of these experiences at our schools,” said Mulherin, “It’s heartbreaking for me to see a photograph from yesterday of a kindergarten child with her hands up in the air behind her head walking out of the school.”
According to the Indiana Department of Education, it’s not a requirement for schools to have an officer on staff. However, it is required to have a safety specialist. At Irvington, more than seven teachers are trained in case of an emergency.
“We’ve just determined as a school district, as a public charter school, it’s very important to have that presence here and the parents have supported it,” said Mulherin.
The state is supporting school safety, too. Just last week, Governor Eric Holcomb signed the school safety bill into law. It says, Indiana secured school fund matching grants may be used to hire an SRO. Representative Wendy McNamara authored House bill 1004. She told us over the phone, she hopes the passing of this bill will provide accessibility and flexibility to keep kids safe across Indiana.
House Bill 1004:
School safety. Provides that the Indiana safe schools fund may not be used to provide grants to employ a school resource officer or a law enforcement officer. Provides that an Indiana secured school fund matching grant may be used to employ a law enforcement officer. Provides that an accredited nonpublic school may receive a grant from the Indiana secured school fund (fund). Makes changes to the maximum grant amounts that a school corporation, charter school, accredited nonpublic school, or coalition of schools may receive from the fund. Provides that a virtual charter school or a virtual accredited nonpublic school may not receive a grant from the fund. Establishes minimum grant match percentages necessary to be eligible to receive a grant from the fund. Provides that, before July 1, 2021, each school corporation, charter school, or accredited nonpublic school shall certify to the department of homeland security that the school corporation, charter school, or accredited nonpublic school has conducted a threat assessment for each school building used by the school corporation, charter school, or accredited nonpublic school before applying for a fund matching grant. Requires that at least one of the manmade disaster drills that is required to be conducted by each school in a school corporation during each semester must be an active shooter drill and must be conducted within 90 days after the beginning of the school year. Provides that each: (1) accredited nonpublic school; and (2) charter school; must conduct at least one active shooter drill during each school year.
“Every child in the state matters,” said Mulherin, “Doesn’t matter where he or she goes to school their safety is also paramount.”
The Indiana Department of Education surveyed schools across the state last year. While not every district responded, only half that did said they had a school resource officer on staff.