The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, July 24, 2018 1:00 am

Parents' rising fears

More counselors in schools part of solution

Five years ago, the well-respected Phi Delta Kappa poll on public education asked parents if they feared for the safety of their children at school. Just 12 percent said yes.

But in the wake of deadly shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, the same question finds 34 percent of parents worried for their children's safety. Those fears are the reason some politicians have pushed to arm teachers or fortify schools with metal detectors. Phi Delta Kappa's polling, however, found parents overwhelmingly support another approach: 76 percent support spending on mental health services.

The survey conducted for each of the last 50 years by the Bloomington-based education association is routinely released in late August, but “after a school year that included two of the top five deadliest K-12 school shootings in U.S. history, (Phi Delta Kappa) is electing to make results on school security available now as a contribution to the public discourse on this critical issue.”

The results should inform lawmakers, who are expected to consider school safety recommendations in a report expected next month. Gov. Eric Holcomb on July 9 offered hand-held metal detectors to schools – one device for every 250 students. Coincidentally, one counselor for every 250 students is the ratio the National School Counselor Association recommends. The actual ratio is just one counselor to 482 students nationwide. It's much worse in Indiana – just one counselor for every 543 students.

School counselors aren't necessarily licensed mental health professionals, but their close interactions with students place them in a good position to recognize troubling behavior or warning signs without sending the message that school is a dangerous place.

Most area school districts applied for the metal detectors. Fort Wayne Community Schools is still considering the option and could apply in a second round.

Phi Delta Kappa's survey of parents – those who know their schools best – should be considered as state leaders continue to study school safety. Just 26 percent of those surveyed said they believed their child would be safer if the teacher was armed, while 36 percent said they believed their child would be less safe. With education dollars dwindling, Indiana schools should be allowed greater say in the security measures their own communities support.

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