Mandating armed school employees not the solution

April 9, 2013 — By -JUSTIN PEEPER

Actions at this year’s General Assembly likely won’t be remembered for being as contentious as previous years, but a surprise piece of legislation that emerged last week has led to disagreement and discourse.
Less than three weeks remain for our state legislators to wrap up business, but a proposal that cleared a committee at the Indiana House would mandate armed school employees.
If the bill becomes law, Indiana would become the first state in the country that would mandate an employee in each of the state’s approximately 1,850 public schools and 70 charter schools be armed with a loaded gun during the school day.
Those employees could be school resource officers or protection officers, which includes teachers, principals or other staff members who would have completed the necessary training.
Supporters of the plan that cleared the House Education Committee 9-3 April 2 claim it could help prevent additional school shooting tragedies while those who oppose such legislation say three weeks is not enough time to vet the idea. Opponents also say local schools should make security decisions, not state legislators.
In this case, the opponents are correct.
First and foremost, such a security decision should be left up to local school boards, not state representatives at the General Assembly. The state has already taken away much of a local school district’s autonomy and this bill would be one more Indianapolis-made mandate.
Hoosier communities elect school board members — individuals who live within the boundaries of the school district they serve — to make decisions that directly affect their schools. We elect these individuals to do what is best for their districts. Furthermore, school board members are more accountable to their constituents and easier to reach than most state lawmakers.
Second, the only armed personnel on school grounds should be police officers or well-trained security guards — not principals, teachers or support staff. Police officers, for example, not only complete initial training in gun use but also continued professional development and practice both in the classroom and at firing ranges.
Finally, less than three weeks remain in this year’s legislative session. Advancing a controversial bill in such a short span allows for little time to publicly debate such an all-encompassing plan.
As we’ve said before in this space, it’s time to apply the brakes and use some common sense.
If legislators are determined to take away more local control by requiring armed personnel in every public and charter school, then they need to be willing to “do it right.”
There are two options they should consider.
The first is to put a school resource officer in every building — a trained police officer assigned to a school. In addition to keeping the school safe, resource officers also play a key role in the day-to-day operations of the school as they form relationships with students and help to prevent crime.
The other option is to set up a system that would allow off-duty police officers to work in schools. Each community has enough city, county and state police that this option would be sustainable.
Both scenarios keep trained police officers in schools — not school personnel or even security guards. Each option, however, entails considerable costs.
If Hoosiers believe current safety measures already in place at most Indiana schools are not sufficient and if Hoosiers think we need to do more to secure our schools, then legislators need to allocate funds to “do it right” the first time.
This question can’t be answered in three weeks, which means it’s time to put the brakes on a new statewide mandate. Instead, it’s best to leave such decisions up to local school boards. The state’s place should be to provide financial support so that local boards can take steps to make their schools safer, whether that be hiring a resource officer or implementing another change.
Justin Peeper is a part-time writer and regular contributor to The News-Banner and is a full-time teacher.  He may be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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