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Protecting students from the worst

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With a little thought, Frank Bush can easily imagine a range of scenarios that could put school children in danger.

An individual bent on harming people could circumvent the security cameras and locks on the building by breaking a school window and spraying the classroom with bullets. A school bus could crash or a student could get into a fight.

Life is fragile, the executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association said. But just as the possibilities for injuries are endless, no single solution will likely provide complete security.

Keeping their students safe is always a top concern of school corporations, attorneys said. Safety measures are reviewed and introduced not just to protect the children from unspeakable violent acts but also from fires, tornadoes, bullying, thefts and drugs. However, the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which took the lives of 20 students and six teachers, has fostered new concerns and is expected to inspire a crop of school safety bills in the Indiana General Assembly.

“I do believe awareness has been heightened,” Bush said. “I do think people are very concerned about disastrous events that occurred and are looking for responsible solutions for safety in schools.”

State and federal statutes have been enacted over the years to address security and protection issues related to students. Schools have safety specialists and emergency preparedness plans detailing what to do during a natural disaster or the procedures for a lockdown. Guns are prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school, and Indiana students caught with a firearm could be expelled from school for a year.

Shortly after the Connecticut tragedy, speculation surfaced if Indiana Code 35-47-9-1 could pave the way for teachers to carry guns because the statute includes an exemption from the school gun-free zone to anyone employed or authorized by the school to act as a security guard or who performs or participates in a school function.

The Legislature and schools often work together but, as attorney Marsha Volk Bugalla noted, the intent that seems clear in a proposal can become cloudy later. While drafting the bill the language may be very plain, but when it is implemented situations not contemplated can arise.

“We always want to be cautious that whatever we do is thoughtful and it’s not just an emotional response,” Bugalla, of Frost Brown Todd LLC in Indianapolis, said.

School resource officers

Days before the 2013 legislative session convened, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller held a press conference to discuss Senate Bill 270, a school safety proposal. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, provides two-year grants of up to $50,000 to school corporations for school resource officers.

Zoeller emphasized the legislation was not a reaction to Newtown. The attorney general had initiated a study in the fall into the use of school resource officers in Indiana schools with the intent of assessing the benefits and concerns about existing SRO programs.

Duties of these officers can vary from district to district. Some are predominately used to provide security while others counsel misbehaving students and intervene in bullying situations. The study found a majority of parents and school administrators were “highly positive” that SROs were in their schools.

Miller’s bill is designed to define the duties of SROs as well as expand the program beyond the estimated one-quarter to one-third of Indiana school corporations that have them. It would appropriate $10 million into the Indiana Safe School Fund to support the grants.

“This proposal would be a good first step to meet an immediate need and expand resources officers into schools that don’t already have them, and still give the Legislature and Executive Branch the opportunity to look at other more long-term comprehensive safety options,” Miller said.

Funding could become the obstacle to this bill. Even Miller described the funding source as “conceptual at this point” with the details being adjusted during the legislative session.

Some school corporations will have enough money to be able to continue the SRO program when the grant expires, Bush said. Other school corporations are operating with such limited cash they have no revenue to match the grant unless they take a drastic step like laying off teachers.

“It’s going to be an unequal distribution of opportunity unless schools and the Legislature can come up with 100 percent of funding for the program,” he said.

Moreover, he questioned whether a $50,000 match would be enough. Would the SRO work five days a week, he asked. If the school has multiple buildings, would $100,000 ($50,000 plus the matching grant) cover the officers needed? Would the officer be in the high school, the elementary school, or at basketball and football games?

He maintains the schools and Legislature need to collect data. There needs to be more information on such things as which school corporations have SROs and how many of those officers are armed.

A January report from the National Association of School Psychologists on school safety emphasized the need for mental health services. The recommendations stated increasing services for mental health, along with social-emotional learning in the classroom, will improve the students’ physical and psychological health as well as academic performance and problem-solving skills.

Also, while the association supports “reasonable building security measures,” it cautioned against putting more armed guards in schools or arming the teachers. The report warned that “an over-emphasis on extreme physical security measures” will not improve school safety and could undermine the schools’ primary mission to educate.

Playgrounds to guns

David Day, partner at Church Church Hittle & Antrim, has represented school corporations for 35 years. Safety has always been an issue, but he has seen that attention turn from preventing injuries on the playground to protecting the students during mass shootings. Now, doors are not only locked, they are also numbered so in the event of an emergency, school personnel can direct the first responders to the correct location.

The focus of school safety changed with the April 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This caused school corporations to look at security in a new way and, particularly as a result of Columbine, brought about policies addressing bullying, Bugalla said.

After Newtown, Bugalla fielded calls from school superintendents while the schools assured parents and children they were safe.

“I think schools are always open to anything and everything that will help make them safe, bearing in mind that a school is not a prison,” she said.

Still, Day said, school administrators will become worried if a lot of new rules are passed but the funding remains nebulous. Echoing Bush, he advocates having a “good discussion” at the local, state and federal levels that takes into account that these problems are complex and not remedied with a single solution.

As Bush illustrated with his imagined scenarios, there always is another possibility for a horrifying incident.

“It’s a serious, serious thing that weighs on people’s minds when the next event is going to occur,” he said. “I just hope it happens in a way where someone can be stopped before it happens.”•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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