By Eric Weddle and Mary Beth Schneider
The Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS - Legislation that would require at least one teacher, principal or other school staff member to carry a gun in every public or charter school in Indiana appears to be raising eyebrows at the highest levels.
And while security experts, parents and teachers acknowledge the need for security, questions about training remain a big issue.
Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday danced around whether he opposed the legislation that would make Indiana the first state to have such a requirement.
"I always believe that decisions in our local schools are best made at the local level, and I have no objection to allowing schools across Indiana to have a better opportunity to have an armed school resource officer or an armed school protection officer," he said.
Pressed on whether it should be a school district's choice, Pence said: "As I said, I have a strong bias to local control. I don't want to prejudge this legislation while it's being written."
But others are asking questions about how these protection officers will be trained, who will pick them and how an educator should handle a loaded gun in a school.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, has come out against the mandate. Daniel Altman, Department of Education press secretary, said Ritz supported giving local schools the resources for security needs but not forcing a district to have an armed employee.
Senate Bill 1 initially was created to provide grant incentives for school districts to hire resource officers, a job sometimes handled by police officers. Tuesday, Republican state Rep. Jim Lucas successfully pushed for the addition of the protection-officer mandate to the bill.
Now, if the legislation becomes law, public and charters school would be mandated to have one protection officer on staff.
Republican Senate President Pro Tempore David Long said the goal was for protection officers to be an optional program that is cheaper than hiring police but still puts an armed, trained individual in the school.
Steve Garner, chief of police for Indianapolis Public Schools, said that he appreciates the legislature's efforts to make schools safer, but so far, critical details are unknown.
"I am very uneasy," said Garner, who oversees 65 officers spread across 28 IPS locations, not including elementary schools. "I would feel easier if they had thought it out and we had a longer discussion about it."
Garner, who was an Indianapolis police officer for 30 years and has been with IPS for the past 11 years, worries about how much training would be required for protection officers and how often additional training would be required.
A hall packed with students could create a dangerous situation if a shootout took place between an assailant and an armed staff member.
"If 99.9 percent of your duty doesn't involve you engaging a gun and shooting it, what are you going to do when the time comes," he said about teachers being trained.
Initial and annual training for protection officers is not specified in the bill. School districts would have until September to adopt those policies if the bill becomes law.
But under the same bill, resource officers, which some school districts already voluntarily employ, would be required to complete minimum training requirements for law enforcement officers and at least 40 hours of certified school resource officer training.
Hamilton Southeastern schools already employs resource officers. For some, such as Libby Troeger, parent of a Hamilton Southeastern High School student, that seems enough.
"I think what they are doing now has us well covered," she said. "We are very well guarded."
Hyde Heckman, a mom of two students at Noble Crossing Elementary School in Noblesville, isn't sure requiring armed teachers or other officers is the best first step. She would rather the state research the ways schools or classrooms should uniformly react in an attack or invest in security upgrades, like the ability to quickly lock down a school.
"No one is on the same page about that," she said. "That is my major concern."
Brenda Pike, executive director of Indiana Star Teacher Associations, said Indiana is not ready to be the test case for mandated armed officers in every school.
"On a statewide basis, we have not had enough discussion to be a test case," she said. "We have not seen our members cry out for guns in schools."
The Indianapolis Star