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The Journal Gazette

Friday, August 10, 2018 3:10 pm

Governor issues 18 recommendations for school safety

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

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 while 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 also 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 State Budget Agency will direct an effort to 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 determines his 2019 legislative and administrative priorities.

- The Department of Homeland Security will initiate efforts to create an Indiana School Safety Hub to put state resources in one easy to use 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 recommendations were loosely organized in three categories: safety equipment and tools; policy or legislative considerations and enhanced mental health services.

A news release said 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. 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 handheld metal detectors available at no cost to traditional public, charter and private schools that request them. The 3,231 metal detectors requested by 369 school entities in this first round 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.

Lawmakers also in May 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 recently approved through IDHS.

A full audit of school safety plans is also underway.