WHITELAND — The Noblesville school shooting one year ago May 25 changed how Indiana schools approach school safety.
School corporation creates police force, mental health position
The Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation in Whiteland is 50 miles from Noblesville, but the tragedy felt like it happened in their backyard.
The district has taken school safety into its own hands by creating its own police force and a new mental health coordinator position.
This past fall, taxpayers in Clark-Pleasant passed an operating referendum that allowed the district to increase safety, security and mental health services at all school facilities.
“We have our own badge, uniforms and police cars,” Tim O'Sullivan, the district’s police chief said.
O’Sullivan is the former police chief of Franklin. He said the Noblesville school shooting highlighted why it’s necessary to have officers inside schools.
“That's what changed for me — the confirmation, that this is needed," O’Sullivan said.
The police force includes two full-time officers in the high school, one in the middle school, and two full-time officers rotating at the elementary schools.
“First of all, we’re a deterrent, and we probably deter most things before they even happen,” O’Sullivan said. “But if it were to happen, we’re here immediately.”
The new police force will get to know students and respond to daily calls within the schools.
“The benefit is time,” O’Sullivan said. “Time is of the essence for safety and security. For true safety, it’s having us here and being able to respond.”
Clark-Pleasant also created a new position, mental health coordinator, who works with counselors, community mental health providers, and staff to develop proactive mental health support for students.
Connie Poston, former director of guidance at Center Grove, stepped into the newly-created role.
It’s the only position of its kind in Johnson County and one of the few in the state of Indiana.
“I applaud Clark Pleasant, and that's one of the reasons I applied because I think it's so important," Poston said. “I think it’s awesome. It’s so needed.”
Poston said she’s been working to streamline the district’s processes related to mental health including suicide prevention.
“We need to make sure we’re on top of things when we see warning signs,” Poston said. “There’s a big push for educating the child, not just math and English and science, but also meeting their needs socially and emotionally.”
Poston will provide training to staff including social and emotional learning, as well as trauma informed care.
Poston and the Clark-Pleasant want students to feel safe coming forward with any concerns about themselves or other students.
"I think that's huge,” Poston said. “If students aren't feeling comfortable to come down to the office or ask for help or letting us know what they need we're not going to be able to meet their needs."
Thousands of metal detectors distributed to Indiana schools
After Noblesville, the state offered to pay for handheld metal detectors.
There was a large response with 422 school corporations accepting the offer — 3,436 metal detectors for a total cost to the state of $352,718.30.
“I am pleased so many of our schools have chosen to request these metal detectors,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “This program is all about giving local school leaders one more resource at their disposal to include in their safety plans.”
Indianapolis Public Schools received 50 of the new metal detectors to replace old and broken ones.
“They were distributed to officers in middle schools, high schools, and our patrol officers have them,” said IPS School Police Capt. Tonia Guynn.
IPS does checks with metal detectors at least twice a week.
“It’s a deterrent because the students know we’re going to do a metal detection,” Guynn said. “We’ve found brass knuckles, pocket knives, cigarettes, and lighters.”
IPS has the largest police force with 49 officers serving 71 schools.
“We treat every student as if they’re ours,” Guynn said. “It was a serious issue to us before Noblesville. We take it very seriously, so when it happened it just reinforced what we are already doing.”
State changes laws to address school safety but more work to do
The state legislature passed several measures to better protect students including adding 35 percent more funds to school safety in the budget, said Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel.
“We’ve actually done quite a bit this year,” Schaibley said. “The Noblesville shooting hit home because it was in our backyard. You think it can’t happen here, well, it can happen anywhere.”
Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1004 which allows schools to use the Secure School Fund for school resource officers and police departments in schools.
“That wasn’t allowed in the past,” Schaibley said.
The law also says schools need to do an active shooter drill within the first 90 days of each school year.
It also allows schools to use the Secured School Fund for mental health services.
“I really think mental health is the one that is incredibly important,” Schaibley said. “Personally, I think it’s the mental health issues are what is causing most of the problems that we are having. I used to be a substitute teacher.”
But Schaibley said more needs to be done.
A bill failed that would have allowed young attempted murder suspects into adult court.
In Noblesville, the shooter was 13 at the time and stayed in juvenile court.
His victims, student Ella Whistler and teacher Jason Seaman both survived their injuries.
Schaibley said a bill should prevent attempted murder suspects from obtaining a firearm once they turn 18 years old, but it failed.
“I would like to bring that bill back, and I’m committed to working on that next year to get that passed,” Schaibley said.
Schaibley said juveniles who commit violent crimes with deadly weapons should not be able to get a gun when they become an adult.
“I don’t think that’s right, and I don’t agree with that,” Schaibley said.
Lawmakers want to hear your ideas to keep schools safe.
“We can always do better, we can always work harder, we can always try to find additional things to keep our kids safe,” Schaibley said.
School corporation seeks to model the way
The Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation hopes to become a model for other schools who want to create police departments and mental health coordinators.
“Why reinvent the wheel if something is working,” O’Sullivan said. “I think other places will be following this lead. I think this is really forward thinking, and this is something unfortunately we need to have.”
This summer, the district will install more than 600 surveillance cameras across the district.
They’re also implementing a new visitor management system called SafeVisitor which will require all visitors to scan their state ID and submit to a sex offender background check.