Indiana is one of the few states that allows school districts to arm teachers. It’s a controversial approach that President Donald Trump supports to help in active shooter situations.
And an increasing number of districts here are considering that option. Just this month, a rural Indiana school corporation approved security measures that give some employees access to guns.
But the district says that’s just one part of its security plan.
Police Response Time Causes Concerns In Rural District
The flags at schools across Jay County flew at half staff earlier this week.
“The Parkland shooting was a real wake up call,” says Superintendent Jeremy Gulley. “It’s just been time and time again these things continue to happen, even as late as this last week.”
It’s a sight that’s become all too common across the country. And the tragedies are making their way into students’ everyday routines. Jamie Ballard says she witnessed that when she attended a recent field trip with her daughter.
“After their Pledge Of Allegiance, they always do a moment of silence,” Ballard says. “And they did a little bit extra long for the victims in the last school shooting, so they are aware of it.”
The increase in school shootings is something Jay School Corporation leaders say they could no longer ignore.
It’s why what used to be the library at East Elementary School is now a construction zone. The school’s office will go into the space, so there will be a single entry point into the building.
“Our schools were not designed or built to defend against this kind of threat,” Gulley says. “In our school district, like many others, buildings were built in the 50s, 60s and 70s. This was just not a threat in society at that time.”
The changes are part of a lengthy security policy the school board approved last week.
They include establishing a countywide threat assessment team, providing training for staff and students on how to spot potential warning signs, updating doors and windows to be bullet-resistant, and hiring retired police officers for security purposes.
The most controversial aspect of the plan involves giving staff members who volunteer access to a gun safe with school-owned firearms in the event of a shooting. Gulley says it’s necessary, given police response times in the rural area.
“We know from studying these active shootings that they start and end before police can typically get there,” he says. “And casualties occur one every six seconds, so when we’re talking about children in a classroom, we’re just not going to accept those facts and statistics.”
Those who volunteer to access the guns will have to go through a screening process first. A three-member panel that includes Gulley, the county sheriff and the Portland police chief will first interview each person. Volunteers will also undergo a psychological evaluation and 26 hours of training.
Gulley considers it the middle ground between arming every teacher and not giving employees access to firearms.
“What we do know is the quickest response time is to have an armed teacher in every classroom,” he says. “You can’t get faster than that. But there’s risks associated with that that I’m not willing to take as the superintendent of schools.”
Jay County is a rural, conservative area. That made the decision to adopt the policy relatively easy for the school board.
The district held public hearings on the proposal, and hosted a school safety town hall to discuss the challenges. It also put out a survey, and 95 percent of the more than 250 people who responded were in favor of the proposal.
Jay County Sheriff Duane Ford is working with the district to help implement the policies. They want dispatchers to have access to video cameras inside the school so they can relay information to responding officers during a shooting.
He says having armed administrators, teachers and support staff inside the school will only help police.
“A lot of times we have only one officer on at a time, sometimes we have two,” Ford says. “The city’s the same way. If it happens inside a city school, that’s OK. We have rural community schools where it takes us longer to respond to those.”
A small number of people in Jay County do think giving educators access to guns is wrong. They worry, even with hours of training, educators aren’t equipped to react properly with a gun in a crisis situation.
“You could have some kid who may have just a toy gun. Will they shoot him?” asks Portland resident Mike Collins. “What happens?”
Gulley says he’s unsure how much all of the new security measures will cost, or how the school district will pay for them. He does think state funding should be made available.
The new policies will be implemented gradually, but he expects the district will have guns available to some staff members as early as next school year.
First Indiana School District Adopted Gun Policy For Staff In 2014
Jay County is the second Indiana district to adopt a policy giving some some employees access to guns. The first district to do so has a different policy, which it adopted long before the Parkland, Florida shooting.
The North White School Corporation adopted a policy in 2014 that allows building level administrators and school board members to carry a concealed weapon on school property. The gun has to be semi-automatic and must be carried, not stored in buildings, at all times.
The policy requires at least six hours of instruction, which includes handgun safety and live firing training.
North White School Corporation’s superintendent declined an interview, saying she didn’t want to put out more information about their policy because of recent school shootings.
Indiana’s state superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick has said that while Indiana law allows districts to adopt such policies, she doesn’t support arming teachers.
“The educators I’ve talked to, the students I’ve talked to, families and parents I’ve talked to – I haven’t found any to date that have said that’s a good idea,” McCormick says.