After two school shootings in Indiana last year, lawmakers and Governor Eric Holcomb called school safety a top priority. They introduced and debated dozens of measures aimed at making students safer, ranging from school hardening to mental health treatment. A number of Gov. Holcomb’s school safety recommendations outlined in a report came to fruition, while others fell short of expectations or were not enacted at all.
A list of all the school safety bills introduced this session is available here.
Mental Health Funding
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pushed for increased funding towards mental health this legislative session. The end result was some funding towards mental health but not as wide-reaching as some, including recommendations laid out by the governor, hoped.
During a final conference committee on House Bill 1004, a sweeping school safety bill, its mental health funding language was removed. The bill’s author Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville) says the bill was originally written to offer grants for school hardening measures and cautioned combining mental health funding into the same bill.
“In my opinion, a lot more resources need to be dedicated specifically to student mental health and social-emotional learning,” McNamara says. “There needs to be two funds, and they shouldn't be intertwined, which is ultimately what wound up happening.”
Holcomb signed the bill. It gives schools access to state grants to fund school resource officers and school hardening measures. The bill expands the grant program to $19 million each year, and a teired system makes the grants more accessible for rural and small districts.
“I convened a group last year to examine school safety, and the recommendations led to this legislation that provides access to more funding for safety equipment, facilitates partnerships with local law enforcement and requires threat assessments in our schools,” Gov. Holcomb wrote in a statement, “This new law is key to ensuring our schools are better prepared.”
Lawmakers pointed to the existence of mental health funding language in Senate Bill 325. This bill, however, would not provide grants to help schools launch mental health services or pay for additional counselors. Instead, if parents and their at-risk students needed financial support to fund treatment, schools could apply to receive grant support.
If school corporations want to seek funding on their own, lawmakers opened the path for districts to specifically request school safety funding from the community. School districts could already use funds from an operations referenda for school safety –– as Noblesville Schools did in last year –– but this bill would require specific uses from the funds. Senate Bill 127 awaits the governor’s signature.
Guns in the classroom remains a divisive issue at the statehouse. Locally elected school boards already have authority to arm teachers, but some lawmakers sought new funding for teacher firearm training.
House Bill 1253 would have done just that but it died after the author disagreed with a provision making training a requirement.
Testimony from the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, sparked national attention after revealing Indiana teachers were shot with metal pellets as part of an active shooter training drill.
Some lawmakers sought to prohibit active shooter training with projectiles, while others wanted it kept an option, such as Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond).
“It’s got to do with reality, and making sure they experience the emotions and the adrenaline and everything that happens during the training, but it's not required,” Raatz said during a Senate education committee.
Noblesville West Middle School teacher Jason Seaman -- who tackled the 13-year-old school shooter and was shot -- tweeted his disappointment with lawmakers. In the end, no new rules for active shooter training were approved.
Are the elected officials really that out of touch or are they listening to the people with the deepest pockets...again?— Jason Seaman (@SeamanNWMS) April 16, 2019
This is beyond disappointing. https://t.co/NrvZswXMTV
Seaman supported another bill related to school shootings. He and some lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed for changes to allow 12- and 13-year-olds to be charged with attempted murder and sent to adult court.
The bill was filed, in part, as a response to last year’s Noblesville shooting where Seaman and a student were shot. In November, a 13-year-old admitted to 11 counts in a Hamilton County courtroom. Under Indiana law, he was too young to be waived to adult court – if one year older, however, he could have been charged as an adult.
"My pain and suffering will withstand long before the person who shot me will have his freedom and his ability to be out in public again," Seaman said during a hearing on the bill.
School Bus Safety
Drivers who pass stopped school busses will face larger penalties under a new law approved by Holcomb. The bill was filed in response to three children struck and killed while crossing the street to board their school bus last fall. If a driver passes a stopped school bus and results in death or injury they could face felony charges.
Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey
Another request on Holcomb’s school safety recommendations: required participation in a Centers for Disease Control survey.
The survey gathers data on sexual habits and relationships, substance abuse, violence and mental health of high school students. Right now, Indiana schools have the option to participate in this survey but with low participation renders the data inconclusive. Indiana is one of only a few states that doesn’t reach conclusive results from the survey.
Supporters of the CDC survey requirement hoped it would provide information on areas that need additional programming or funding. However, some advocacy groups, like the American Family Association of Indiana, lobbied that the survey infringed on parental rights. It was ultimately removed from House Bill 1004.
Equipment and Training
A bill to provide bleeding control kits to all Indiana schools was signed by the governor after easily passing both the House and Senate. All the kits -- which contain gauze, tourniquet, survival blanket, gloves and an ink pen –– were donated by the Indiana Hospital Association. Two Indiana firefighters associations also agreed to provide free training.
Another school safety program signed into law would partner seniors with students. A new grant program would fund schools to create the program, and volunteers 55 years older can recieve a tax deducation. The bill’s author Rep. Chuck Goodrich (R-Noblesville) says it could improve social and emotional support in schools, and ultimately, make them safer.
Schools can now receive grants to set up an active event warning system, which could allow police access to closed-circuit cameras in the event of an emergency. Holcomb approved House Bill 1225.
Schools can now use state funds to pay the salaries of school resource officers –– a police officer trained to work in schools. This was one of the recommendations in the Holcomb’s school safety report.
A bill that awaits the governor’s signature would allow police departments to share investigative records with school corporations. These records would then be protected from third-party record requesters, such as journalists, researchers or parents. House Bill 1398 also allows school corporations share student information without parental consent if there is a safety or medical emergency.