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School safety thoughts from the non-public sector

March 22nd 2018

The Indy Star came out with an opinion piece on Friday, March 16, from State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. She shared her thoughts about the need for all schools to adopt state-mandated safety regulations after a stream of horrendous school shootings across the country.

We appreciate Dr. McCormick championing school safety for all students in all schools. We too believe that safety must be a priority for all schools — public, charter and non-public. Since Columbine, non-public schools have been engaged in safety planning and drills, locking school entrances and adding cameras to control who enters our buildings. This is happening in non-public schools across the country without it being required by state government. It’s being done because it’s the responsibility of all schools to keep their students and teachers safe.

While we agree with Dr. McCormick on the goal of school safety, we may differ slightly in process. Like anything in education, one shoe does not fit all. There is no one way to keep a school safe. There may be similar components, like having a safety plan, engaging in safety training and conducting emergency drills, but the process and structure may look different across various types and sizes of schools. A small non-public school may not be able to have the same infrastructure that a school corporation has in their plan, but that doesn’t mean the school is any less safe.

The Indiana Department of Education (DOE) is known statewide for conducting excellent safety academy trainings, but many schools may choose a different safety training provider where they will learn the exact same content. Does that make them any less safe? No.

When you have schools that are part of large corporations, the corporations take responsibility in designating a safety specialist. However, there are several small non-public schools in our state that have less than 20 students, where the principal is also a full time teacher. How can we expect them to take on all the additional responsibilities in statute of a safety specialist, as well?

Dr. McCormick mentioned that 38 percent of non-public schools participate in the safety specialist training compared to 100 percent of public schools. That number is misleading because the mandate calls for just one safety specialist per school corporation in the public sector but the proposed language calls for one safety specialist per school in the non-public sector, where they’re counting all non-public schools individually. For example, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, essentially the non-public version of a public school corporation, has a school safety specialist on staff. The Archdiocese oversees 65 different schools, which are all counted separately in the DOE’s 38 percent calculation. There are other similar “jurisdictions” similar to the Archdiocese in the state that may have corporation level specialists as well. This is not factored in the 38 percent number, which would be a lot higher if so.

There are, however, a couple things we do agree on with Dr. McCormick. All of our schools should certainly have a safety plan and proper training. We don’t dispute that, however, we do believe it can be done without requiring the burdensome infrastructure required of a school corporation.

We fully support Dr. McCormick in her quest to keep Hoosier students safe because that’s part of our mission too. However, we encourage legislators to understand that we can approach things differently and achieve the same result. Schools aren’t a one-size-fits all enterprise, so we need to adjust the fit sometimes to make it work for everyone.

We look forward to continuing our work with the department and schools across different sectors to ensure that all students can come to school focused on learning and not concerned about the most basic need of feeling safe.

– John Elcesser, executive director of INPEA