TERRE HAUTE —
The decision to provide armed security inside a schoolhouse should be made locally. The serious concerns raised by such a significant step are best aired and addressed by local school boards, administrators, parents, mental-health professionals and law enforcement officials who know the distinct characteristics of the community.
School districts serve distinct populations. Terre Haute is not Carmel. Corydon is not Gary. All communities, though, must now confront troubling choices over safety policies, tragically illuminated by the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
The Indiana Legislature wisely dropped a measure that would have required every Indiana public and charter school to arm an employee with a loaded gun while classes are in session. Lawmakers revised that bill to authorize armed employees in schools, but called on local school boards to decide each year whether to implement such a policy.
The concept stemmed from a predictable response by the National Rifle Association to the Sandy Hook shooting, proposing an armed security guard or staff member in every U.S. school. The like-minded bill with the armed-employee mandate that emerged in the Indiana House drew opposition and criticism for a smorgasbord of reasons from numerous state officials and education groups, including Gov. Mike Pence and state Senate President Pro-Tem David Long, both conservative Republicans.
Pence said, appropriately, “I have a strong bias for local control. I think decisions that are nearest and dearest to our hearts ought to be made by parents and local school officials. I believe that’s so in this case.”
Those decisions are big. The difference between arming a school worker — such as a teacher, principal, counselor — and hiring an armed school police officer is significant. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported last week that the Noble County sheriff reconsidered initial plans by his department to train volunteers from school staffs in firearms safety when confusion arose over which public entity — the county or the school district — would provide insurance coverage for those involved.
Also, the administrator of the workers’ comp plans for Noble County and the school corporations said it would cancel or not renew its coverage if the armed employee policy went forward.
The training of those school workers to engage an armed intruder would not match that of seasoned police officers. (See story, Page A1.)
The step by Vigo County schools to place an armed security officer in every local schoolhouse has been rightly regarded as a model response to the security dilemma. The investment required to implement and sustain that program may not, though, be feasible statewide or in many other communities. The county and the school corporation will split the $135,000 annual cost of staffing security in 10 schools in outlying parts of the county. The city and school district will similarly split the $353,000 yearly cost of placing armed officers in the 12 schools inside the Terre Haute city limits.
The Vigo plan is as thorough and encompassing as any could be. Other counties and cities have the same fears and considerations, but may have fewer resources. The difficult options must be weighed in those local school board meetings, with parents, teachers and community officials listening and deciding together.