It has become an all too familiar and disturbing headline: another mass shooting in a school with innocent students and heroic educators left dead or wounded. Most Indiana schools plan, prepare, and partner to diminish the risks associated with such a horrific incident. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) plays an important role in providing guidance and support to schools that are either under state mandate or not under mandate yet elect to participate in IDOE school safety opportunities.
Today, 100 percent of traditional public schools participate. In addition, 25 percent of charter schools participate, and 38 percent of accredited non-public schools participate. While all traditional public schools are required to secure and train a School Safety Specialist, develop a prescribed safety plan, participate in safety trainings, and hold determined emergency drills, these mandated expectations do not hold true for all types of schools across our state. IDOE supports policies which would require all schools to meet or exceed the aforementioned threshold.
As Indiana’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I am responsible for overseeing quality school safety training, support, and guidance. All Hoosier students deserve to be safe and feel secure while in a school environment. With consideration for local control, there is no greater priority requiring our unconditional attention than school safety and security. This moral imperative demands involvement from each of us. Regardless of the type of school, political affiliation, or community dynamics, we must agree our children’s safety is a non-negotiable and shared obligation.
Parents, guardians, students, and communities share a sacred trust and expectation surrounding school safety and security. Every student, regardless of zip code and choice of school, deserves to learn in an educational environment that meets defined safety expectations while accounting for local decision making. Examples reflecting local voice include whether to employ school resource officers, the selection of vetted safety equipment, and the implementation of a policy to arm educators. As of today, on the topic of the latter, no Indiana school district has implemented the practice of having armed educators. As a former local superintendent, I, too, did not and would not make such a recommendation.
Indiana is fortunate to have a nationally recognized School Safety Academy, administered by your IDOE to provide educators with training, best practices, and resources to support school safety. Access is available to all schools at no charge. This spring, we have invited Governor Holcomb, Attorney General Hill, members of our Indiana General Assembly, and all state education chiefs from across the nation to attend our Academy with the goal of partnering, sharing, and learning.
Currently, your IDOE trains and certifies School Safety Specialists. To date, Indiana has issued more than 2,000 certifications. These Specialists are trained to lead the development and implementation of school safety practices which work to provide safe educational environments for students. In addition, IDOE conducts audits of local school safety plans. Annually, district superintendents are responsible to review each school building and overall district plans and sign assurances to confirm compliance.
As Indiana’s education leader, I appreciate the dialogue between Indiana school leaders, lawmakers, agency heads, and elected officials to address this significant issue. I recognize, however, more needs to be done. For this reason, I have strongly encouraged the Indiana General Assembly, our Indiana Congressional Delegation, and those who hold executive authority to undertake efforts to address school safety. These actions must include passing policies which decrease risks, provide support for social and emotional programs to address mental and behavioral health, and approve budgets that increase resources.
IDOE urges you to contact your state and federal elected officials and encourage their support in making certain every student has a safe and secure learning environment. Indiana deserves increased funding and a shared state threshold of safety for all schools. Our office is ready to collaborate and participate in any discussions that address the safety and well-being of Indiana students. School safety is a complex issue and requires a multifaceted approach to solutions. In the end, the actions of Hoosier leaders will reflect the level of courage we have regarding the safety of our children.