Public school districts in Bartholomew County are saying “thanks, but no thanks” to an option under state law that lets teachers in some circumstances carry guns on school property.
Their conclusion: Leave the guns to the experts.
Lawmakers in at least five states have proposed arming teachers so they can defend students in the wake of the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 school children and six adults.
Republican state Sen. Jim Tomes had planned to introduce similar legislation in Indiana before learning state law already lets school districts empower virtually any licensed adult to store or carry a gun.
“It’s completely up to the school districts,” said David Galvin, executive director of communications for the Indiana Department of Education. “We don’t keep track of that.”
The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. adopted policies years ago that keep guns out of the hands of everyone except police officers, who sometimes need guns in the line of duty, Superintendent John Quick said. It revised those policies in 2004, 2006 and 2011 but still insisted on no guns.
“We’re just not a gun culture here,” Quick said. “If you allowed teachers to carry them, you’d hear a lot more often about incidents where students take guns away from school officials. It would be a big mistake.”
Larry Perkinson, the school system’s liaison to the Columbus Police Department, said the community and school system already put a world of responsibility on teachers just to make sure students fulfill their educational potential. Counting on them to know how and when to use a gun in many cases is simply too much to ask.
“Police officers have a significant amount of training,” Perkinson said.
One officer from the Columbus Police Department and another from the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department are at elementary schools on a rotating basis as part of the Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) program. They are required by the departments to carry guns while in uniform, said Lt. Matt Myers, the Columbus Police Department’s public information officer.
At the high school level, off-duty and armed police officers regularly are contracted by the schools to provide extra patrols and security during lunch hours and athletic events, Myers said.
The Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. has no formal guns policy but still prohibits them for everyone but police, Superintendent Kathy Griffey said. She said that’s because state law allows districts to turn down requests to carry a weapon for any reason — a power that hasn’t come into play in at least a few years, given that no teacher in the district has asked to carry guns.
The responsible use of a gun takes training, Griffey said. If an emergency happened at Hauser Jr./Sr. High School or Hope Elementary School, then armed and trained officers with the Hope Police Department would be there within minutes.
“They do a periodic walk-through,” Griffey said. “They’re out here a lot.”
She said the school district has no intention of changing its no-guns practice.
Randy Bailey, the Hope town marshal, said DARE officer Pat Bryant comes once or twice a week to Hope Elementary School, which connects with Hauser Jr./Sr. High School. Although Bryant is armed, Bailey said he would like to see a greater police presence at the schools in light of the Newtown shooting.
He said the Hope Police Department will conduct lock-down training at the schools this summer and might arrange for reserve police officers to eat lunch with the students on an ongoing basis. He said that would increase the armed presence of officers and help students feel more comfortable with them.
“We need to make our students feel as safe as possible,” he said.