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Indiana schools chief opposes president's plan to arm teachers

Jennifer McCormick, the Republican state superintendent of public instruction, said Monday she opposes President Donald Trump's proposal to arm teachers as a way of preventing mass shootings in school buildings.

INDIANAPOLIS — The state's top education official is not on board with President Donald Trump's suggestion that arming teachers would be an effective way to prevent mass shootings in school buildings.

Jennifer McCormick, the Republican state superintendent of public instruction, said Monday that she believes it's "a really, really bad idea" to have, as Trump recommended, a corps of trained teachers carrying loaded handguns in their classrooms.

"I think there are more risks than reward when you're talking about arming teachers," McCormick said. "We lose our keys for God's sake. I can't imagine trying to keep track of guns."

That said, McCormick does support Indiana's current policy allowing local police, especially those assigned to work in schools, to carry firearms in school buildings to protect themselves and others.

"If you are a trained individual in the tactical sense, as far as law enforcement or school resource officers, I do believe there is room for that," she said. "I just don't believe that's with arming teachers."

McCormick said school safety has been on her mind a lot following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school that killed 17 people and prompted a nationwide, student-led movement against gun violence.

She was disappointed that the Republican-controlled General Assembly last week failed to approve Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's proposal to add $5 million to the $9 million Indiana already annually spends on safety grants to local schools.

"That would have been big," McCormick said.

She remains hopeful the money still will be administratively reallocated in the weeks ahead, or appropriated during the special legislative session that Holcomb plans to call in May.

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At the same time, McCormick didn't particularly mind seeing other components of House Bill 1230 get rendered moot at midnight Wednesday when the House did not vote on the measure prior to the statutory deadline for legislative action.

Specifically, she opposed continuing to exempt charter schools and private schools that accept state vouchers from the public school requirement that each school have an annually reviewed safety plan and a school safety specialist on staff.

McCormick said if the state is going to give parents the choice of where to send their children to school, parents deserve to have confidence that any school they choose will have a minimum level of student safety in place.

"I don't think that's too much to ask. It's not a huge lift fiscally," McCormick said. "But it does need someone with the willingness to say that's going to be Indiana's baseline for safety."

McCormick also did not support a provision in that legislation that would have mandated the Indiana Department of Education to annually audit every school safety plan.

She said her agency already does spot-safety checks on about 60 schools a year. Hitting every school every year would cost about $2 million and largely only duplicate the work already being done by local superintendents and local law enforcement.

"We think that audit would be a huge lift, and we're not real sure there would be a big benefit to that," McCormick said.

In any case, McCormick doesn't expect the school safety issue will go away. She anticipates it will be a major focus during the 2019 General Assembly when lawmakers craft the next two-year state budget.

"We're going to have school safety be a priority every day, all hours. I mean, that's just who schools are. And it's not easy," McCormick said. "But you have to have fiscal support."

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