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home : most recent : madison February 16, 2019


1/23/2019 9:53:00 AM
Student advice may drive Indiana school safety legislative efforts

Scott L. Miley, Herald Bulletin CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — In the wake of the 2018 shooting deaths of 17 students and staff members at Parkland, Fla., Hoosier students held rallies and addressed school leaders in seeking stiffer protections to prevent similar attacks.

"There may not be a lot that a junior in high school can do, but I feel like I had to do something to help," said Hailee Loar, a student at Elwood Jr.-Sr. High School.

Loar and three sophomore friends approached the Elwood School Board hoping it would reinforce the idea that a shooting can happen in any school. The four students said that their peers often don't take school drills seriously. 

"They pretty much supported me fully about my views on school safety," Loar said. "And how I wanted to create a student group to push for positive reinforcements for school safety at Elwood Jr.-Sr. High School."

The suggestion that local and state officials take advice about school safety from students is gaining ground.

Although there are bills in the Indiana General Assembly seeking more restrictions on firearms storage, much of the focus is on making mental health services more accessible to students under the banner of school safety.

State Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, authored Senate Bill 611, which in part would require the Indiana Department of Education to supervise a governor's student advisory concerning education issues.

SB 611 would allow matching grants to be awarded from the Indiana Secured School Fund so a school corporation or charter school could establish a program for mental health services to students or form partnerships with mental health providers for services.

Ruckelshaus developed the bill after forming a group of northern Indianapolis high school teens last year to discuss school safety.

"I wanted the students to talk from their perspectives and what they’re seeing and what their fears and what their hopes are for school safety and what they experience on a daily basis. And what they came up with was the focus on mental health," Ruckelshaus said.

Tackling prevention issues would be welcome, Loar said.

"I definitely think that, when it comes to students, I think administrators should use a slower way of dealing with issues when it comes to discipline. I feel it's definitely way too harsh, and they're not actually looking at the cause for them acting out. They're just going on to discipline rather than figuring out why they need to be disciplined," Loar said.

A common denominator in school attacks has shown that an attacker has mental health issues, Gov. Eric Holcomb said.

"It begs the question, what are we doing about it?," Holcomb said. "How do we intervene and when? There will be more emphasis on that." 

"It's about getting the help that a student needs sooner and then hopefully preventing that eruption from occurring, either at school, in a parking lot, somewhere else," Holcomb said.

Senate Bill 427 would provide grants for school-based mental health services. Senate Bill 354 would allow a school district to provide mental health screenings to students if written consent is given by a parent or guardian.

In December, the Federal Commission on School Safety released its findings in a report commissioned by President Trump following the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The report downplays the role of firearms laws, in one section observing:

"Analyses of completed school shootings indicate that school shooters do not frequently use legal purchase as a method for obtaining firearms.

"More often, they obtain them from within the home or steal them. These findings suggest that modifying the minimum age of firearm purchase is unlikely to be an effective method for preventing or reducing school shootings."

Among the report's recommendations, states and local communities should adopt laws allowing for "extreme risk protection orders" that can temporarily restrict firearms access by individuals found to be in danger to themselves or others while ensuring those at-risk individuals have due process rights.

Also, the report recommends that awareness of mental health issues among students should be increased by state and local agencies.

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