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Noble quickly cooling to arming school staff

Harp

With a variety of insurance and workers’ compensation concerns on the table, the Noble County sheriff is pumping the brakes on a proposal to place armed school workers in the county’s schools.

Sheriff Doug Harp said Tuesday that although he hasn’t fully abandoned the proposal, he isn’t pushing forward with it either.

“We’ve heard some concerns about insurance and workers’ comp, … and I haven’t really done a whole lot with it since then,” Harp said.

The proposal began as a discussion last summer between Harp and school superintendents about increasing school safety at West Noble, East Noble and Central Noble schools.

“At that point and time, we consulted the school attorney and decided that wasn’t a good thing to do,” Harp said.

Then the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut occurred and the idea gathered momentum, he said.

Harp said his department even started some initial training, offering to teach volunteers from the schools about firearm safety.

But it wasn’t long before the roadblocks began piling up.

“Our biggest hurdle was the issue of insurance and workers’ comp,” Harp said.

Harp consulted the county’s insurance agent, Jarrod Ramer, of Black & Ramer Insurance.

Ramer said the issue wasn’t a question of whether the school employee serving in the role of a special deputy would be covered by insurance, it was an issue of which insurer would be responsible for what coverage.

“It’s such a new concept that the insurance companies are hesitant to go forward with it,” Ramer said.

Because Harp’s initial proposal didn’t clarify whether the armed school employees – though trained through the Noble County Sheriff’s Department – would be covered through the school district’s or county’s insurance policy, a gray area began to form, Ramer said.

“That’s where we came into problems,” he said. “That’s why the (insurance) companies are looking at it and saying, ‘We don’t want to go down that road.’ ”

And there are other concerns, said attorney Bill Lear of Stewart, Brimner, Peters & Lear Insurance, which works with East Noble School Corp. and Central Noble Community School Corp.

West Noble School Corp. officials have not taken part in the discussions, Lear said.

Indiana Public Employers Plan, the group that handles workers’ compensation for Noble County and East Noble schools, indicated that if the plan moves forward, both would need to find a new insurance group, Lear said.

“IPEP indicated that if this plan moves ahead, that they would either non-renew workers’ comp for both entities or exercise their right to cancel midterm because of the change in risk,” he said. “They don’t like the idea of armed personnel.”

The Indiana Public Employees Plan could not be reached for comment.

Selective Insurance Group, which handles workers’ compensation for Central Noble schools, did not offer a decision but instead said they would wait to consider the sheriff’s proposal, Lear said.

“It’s a very frustrating thing for everybody involved,” Lear said. “We have a group of individuals that are doing everything they can to keep everyone who enters the schools as safe as possible. They are exploring every avenue that they can to get that done.

“It’s very difficult to fault them for trying to do what they think is right.”

jcrothers@jg.net

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