GUEST COMMENTARY: Two meetings aren't enough for school safety

2013-08-21T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Two meetings aren't enough for school safetyBy Linda Lawson nwitimes.com
August 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When I talk with parents of school-age children, their No. 1 concern is school safety.

On Aug. 29, the School Safety Interim Study Committee will discuss that issue. It will be the first of only two meetings to tackle an extremely complicated topic. The agenda for either meeting has yet to be released.

Last session, some legislators suggested the presence of guns would deter gun crimes in schools. I disagree. There was a shooting spree on the Fort Hood Military Base in Texas, where guns are everywhere. Likewise, a madman shot numerous people on the Virginia Tech University campus, which has 49 sworn police officers.

Guns are not the answer to a complex problem. Other issues need to be explored.

For instance, the issue of mental health has not been adequately addressed. Identification of students and adults with potential mental health needs should be on the agenda. However, with only two meetings and limited testimony, it is doubtful mental health issues will be thoroughly reviewed by this study committee.

Teacher and staff training must be examined closely. What are their specific responsibilities? What plans do we have to ensure proper training and funding for it? These are valid questions.

Another School Safety Study Group has made significant progress already. Gov. Mike Pence chairs the group, which includes Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz; Mary Beth Bonaventura, head of the Indiana Department of Child Services; Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter; Gen. Martin Umbarger of the Indiana National Guard; Division of Mental Health Addictions Director Kevin Moore; and other distinguished individuals.

This study group recommends Indiana develop a website that houses all pertinent information regarding school safety. It also suggested seminars be held by the appropriate agencies to assist school districts and their educators. Additionally, agencies dealing with mental health issues and corrections will aid the transition for those who have experienced problems. These are all good recommendations, and our legislative study committee should expand upon them. However, two meetings is not enough time.

Throughout the years, groups have explored a variety of safety plan options. Every school corporation in Indiana runs its own program. Some have police officers assigned to schools by local police chiefs. Other districts hire retired or off-duty officers. These individuals are highly trained, which is essential for someone armed with a gun.

I make this observation as a former police officer with many years of experience. That is why I opposed the legislative proposal last session to place an armed person in every school building. These would not necessarily have been trained individuals, like police officers. Guns reacting to guns is like mixing volatile chemicals. One needs to have the proper training to keep a cool head in volatile situations.

There are no easy answers to highly complex issues like school safety. A glance-over won’t suffice. 

Let’s run this study committee as if lives depend upon it, because they do.

State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, represents the 1st District. The opinions are the writer's.

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