Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing doesn’t plan to teach arithmetic in school any time soon.
And he’d prefer it if educators not trained as police officers would not carry guns in school.
“I didn’t go to school to teach,” Ewing told an Indiana Senate school safety interim study committee at the Statehouse on Tuesday. “I believe teachers and principals don’t need to be worried about doing my job.”
Ewing was among Vigo County officials who told the study committee how his county’s law enforcement, government and school officials came together to put school protection officers in each school after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Connecticut last December.
Vigo County School Corp. Superintendent Danny Tanoos, who also attended the committee meeting, said school protection officers in the district’s schools are all former police officers, many retired, who now have full-time jobs with the school corporation to be the first line of defense in case of a violent attack.
And these officers are not expected to look for students sneaking a smoke in the restroom or to bust students who are cutting class.
While the school district and city and county governments split the costs of the program, the sheriff’s department and Terre Haute Police Department are responsible for the law enforcement duties of each officer. The county and the city supply marked police cars that are parked outside each school as a message to the public that an armed officer is inside to protect students and staff.
“We looked at our best options,” Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse told the study committee, “and we realized we couldn’t just pick a school to protect, it had to be all schools. And the officers need to be armed and trained law enforcement officers.”
That’s partly because school shootings happen in a matter of minutes, he said.
“If they [shooters] know there’s someone there who can shoot back, they won’t go there,” Plasse said, noting that of dozens of schools that have experienced shootings since April 1999, none had an armed police officer in the building when the shooting began.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, Vigo County Council President Bill Thomas and County Councilman Tim Curley also showed their support for the school protection officer program.
“With an officer in every school, it really has put a good level of comfort in the schools and for the parents,” Bennett said of the community response. “We went from no security in the elementaries to an officer in each school. The money is a tough thing, but I know we really believe this is a great model to follow, and I hope you all will find the funding for other communities to do this.”
Bennett said that while implementing the plan initially put a strain on the city budget, it has now been built into future city budgets. He also noted that the program can be important from an economic development standpoint, as the community tries to attract new industry, and the safe schools are promoted as a community selling point.
Councilmen Thomas and Curley both said that as soon as Ewing brought together community leaders to discuss the school protection officer program last spring, they considered it as a community effort that needed to be put in place.
“It doesn’t matter about whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” said Curley, who is a retired police officer. “It’s a matter of doing what’s right for our children.”
Some security changes went into effect in Vigo County schools soon after the Sandy Hook massacre, Tanoos said.
All school buildings are now locked. More security cameras were installed. School staff went through active-shooter training with police officers. A school protection officer was placed at the front door of each building. All visitors are escorted through the halls.
“We tightened things up in a pleasant way, a caring way,” Tanoos said.
He both asked legislators to consider funding security upgrades for schools throughout Indiana and put in a plug for Vigo County’s receiving a $50,000 Safe Schools Grant approved by the legislature, even though the school district was proactive in establishing its own program before the state mandate and has used funds in its cash balance to pay for officer salaries.
In response to legislators’ questions, Tanoos noted that no teachers or staff are allowed to carry weapons in the schools.
And neither Chief Plasse nor Sheriff Ewing said they would support arming teachers.
State Rep. Alan Morrison and State Sen. Tim Skinner — both of Terre Haute, the former a Republican, the latter a Democrat — agreed with that position.
“One of the things this committee is struggling with is putting a gun on a principal or a teacher. Does that make the school safer?” asked Skinner, a retired teacher.
“The committee needs affirmation that it’s not a good idea to arm teachers or staff. Unfortunately, there are communities around the state where people think it is a good idea to let teachers be armed.”
Morrison said the Vigo County effort is a good example of how a community responded to the security question on its own, adding that the legislature hopes other communities are not afraid to take that local approach.
“There is such a diversity of communities, though,” Morrison said. “What Vigo County does won’t work everywhere, but we need to find out what can work and help communities make their schools safe for students and staff.”
Morrison said the committee is tasked with addressing concerns with current school safety legislation so that changes in language or funding can be made in the upcoming legislative session.
“We’re likely to get back together to go over what we’ve learned, and to come up with solutions,” he said. “That’s why hearing from these guys who are already protecting their schools is so great.”
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.
Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing doesn’t plan to teach arithmetic in school any time soon.
- Local & Bistate
Vigo County Jail Log: Dec. 4, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Tuesday and Wednesday, based on jail records.
Indiana AFL-CIO ousts leader from right-to-work fight
TERRE HAUTE — The Indiana State AFL-CIO has elected a new president, replacing the labor union’s leader who directed its unsuccessful campaign to block passage of the state’s right-to-work law.
Be alert on I-70 for lane restrictions
CLAY/PUTNAM/VIGO COUNTIES – The Indiana Department of Transportation asks motorists to be alert for lane restrictions on I-70 through Dec. 14.
Tip reveals active meth lab
TERRE HAUTE — Acting on an anonymous tip, Indiana State Police troopers from the Putnamville Post Meth Suppression Team found remnants of an active meth lab on Tuesday in a residence in the 3000 block of North 15 1⁄2 Street.
Unsolved homicide approaching one-year mark
Tips in an unsolved homicide are being sought as the one-year anniversary approaches in the death of a Sullivan County man.
White wonder: Snow ‘just adds to atmosphere’ of Miracle on 7th Street
Snow showers are expected to blanket downtown Terre Haute on Friday – just in time for the holiday wonder of Miracle on 7th Street.
SMWC names sports complex after late Sister
The new Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Sports and Recreation Center will be named after the late Sister Jeanne Knoerle, the college’s 12th president.
Two Sullivan County school districts to get $1 million
Northeast and Southwest Sullivan school districts each will receive more than $1 million as part of a settlement in a federal securities fraud lawsuit.
State agency opposes limited unemployment benefits plan
A coalition of business and labor groups want Indiana legislators to expand unemployment benefits to partially furloughed workers, but the proposal faces opposition from the state agency that would implement it.
Buskirk pleads guilty for role in teen’s murder
A Greene County man appeared in court Tuesday morning to admit his involvement in the murder of a Linton teenager last summer.
Driver injured after swerving to avoid deer
A Jasonville man was injured in an early Tuesday crash south of Riley.
City man who led police on chase still loose
Authorities are still looking for a man who led police on a lengthy chase across the city Monday afternoon.
Bikes for Tykes needs donation
The Exchange Club of Terre Haute’s 16th annual Bikes for Tykes fundraiser needs donations to assist in providing bikes and helmets to Wabash Valley children.
I-70 westbound open again following evening crash
Interstate 70 west-bound, after being closed Tuesday due to an accident in Putnam County, opened again to traffic at about 7:30 p.m.
Vigo County Jail Log: Dec. 3, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Monday and Tuesday, based on jail records.
Driver injured after swerving to avoid deer, hitting tree
A Jasonville man was injured in an early morning crash today in Vigo County.
Riley firefighters responded to the scene on Louisville Road about 1.5 miles south of Riley.
Ley sentenced to 12 years for 2012 death of motorcyclist
“It’s very hard to find what justice should be,” said Vigo County Judge Michael Rader after listening to two hours of emotional testimony Monday in the case of Travis Ley, a Terre Haute man convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and causing the death of one young man and serious injuries to another.
Christmas lights set park aglow
Snoopy is ready to fight the Red Baron, and singing snowmen are playing hits by The Rolling Stones at this year’s Christmas in the Park in Deming Park.
As neighborhood changes, so does grocery
Locust Street IGA, a long-standing neighborhood grocery, will soon undergo a transformation into a low-cost grocery named “Locust Cost +10%.”
RESTAURANT INSPECTIONS: Dec. 3, 2013
Union High School to close
The Northeast Sullivan School Board voted 3 to 2 on Monday night to close Union Junior/Senior High School and Dugger Elementary at the end of the current school year and to move forward with a reorganization plan.
NESC Board votes to close Union HS, Dugger Elementary
The Northeast Sullivan School Board voted 3 to 2 Monday to close Union Junior/Senior High School and Dugger Elementary, effective at the end of the current school year, and to move forward with a reorganization plan for the school district.
Man sentenced to 12 years in fatal drunken driving case
After listening to emotional testimony from the family of Leylahnd Owens, a motorcyclist who died in a crash with a drunk driver, a judge has issued Travis Ley a 17-year sentence.
Vigo County Jail Log: Dec. 2, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, based on jail records.
Remembering: After crash, boy’s organs gave life to others
With a brush in hand, a 13-year-old boy on Sunday looked intently at the image of a friend he lost two years ago.
Cancer Awareness: Celebration for survivors, patients, families
For 20 years, one annual holiday event has been celebrating life and bringing hope to those affected by cancer in the Wabash Valley.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Cheneys’ feud hits Indiana
Oh, it’s on.
If there was any doubt that the coming fight over the same-sex marriage ban amendment in Indiana was going to be elevated to the national level, it’s gone.
Common Core: GOP: Scrap education standards
The Republican leaders of the General Assembly want Indiana to scrap the Common Core education standards and have the state adopt its own guidelines to prepare students for college and careers, a report Sunday said.
Dresser: A town disappearing
If all goes according to plan, the village of Dresser, a small, unincorporated town between Terre Haute and West Terre Haute on the Wabash River, will someday be replaced by a park or a nature preserve.
3 in their 30s
A trio of 30-somethings is putting into action its collective vision for Vigo County parks.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Vigo County Jail Log: Dec. 4, 2013