IN Focus: Analyzing gun-related incidents in Indiana schools

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The images of students fleeing schools due to violence have become all too familiar, with another deadly shooting just this week in Texas.

And locally, there are frequent reports of schools on lockdown as administrators work to keep children safe. While situations do not always end in a shooting, kids are bringing guns onto campuses.

A FOX59 investigation revealed these incidents are happening in central Indiana. An analysis of records showed some students are being allowed back in school instead of being thrown out.

Each year, school districts are required to send the Indiana Department of Education details about their gun violations and the consequences students faced.

“We want to know they`re safe in their environment, that they`re protected, and we want to know the leaders over those children - our children – are, you know, making the right decisions,” said Adam Baker, IDOE press secretary.

FOX59 reviewed the reports for the last couple of years. In the 2016-2017 school year, there were 56 reports of gun incidents – 28 of those were in Marion County.

Here is the breakdown of the data:

Indianapolis Public Schools (largest district in the state): 14

MSD of Warren Township: 4

MSD of Washington Township: 3

MSD of Wayne Township: 3

MSD of Decatur Township: 2

MSDS of Lawrence Township: 1

Perry Township Schools: 1

The state data also revealed that Fort Wayne Community Schools, the second largest district in the state, had just one gun violation.

“The law does advise that for weapons that are a firearm or destructive device that expulsion is the proper route,” Baker said.

But, statewide records reveal only 39 percent of the students involved in gun violations were expelled. Most were actually suspended.

FOX59 reached out to districts to fund out why those decisions are made.

“Ultimately, when a student is in possession of a firearm on school property, that gun can be traced to them and is subsequently recovered, they`re expelled,” said Carrie Cline Black, spokesperson for IPS. “No ifs, ands or buts about it.”

At IPS, two of the 14 gun incidents show a student was expelled. The rest cite out of school suspensions. Cline Black said something like a picture of a student with a gun on social media – but no gun found on campus – requires careful review and may not rise to the level of expulsion.

“Things aren`t always so black and white and at the end of the day we do want to give our students due process,” Cline Black said. “We are very vigilant in communicating to our student body that this is very serious.”

Meantime, other districts say factors like a student moving away, being special needs or finishing the school year through online courses are not reflected in the data.

While school leaders determine how to handle each student, there are district-wide efforts to prevent guns from ever making it on campus.

“The kids, they want to come to school and feel safe otherwise they`re not going to learn,” said Doug Scheffel, director of security for Wayne Township schools.

At MSD of Wayne Township, Scheffel oversees security measures for the 18 schools in the district of about 16,000 students. Out of the three reported gun violations there last year, two students were expelled. A third was suspended but a district spokesperson says that student continued their education online and did not return to school.

Scheffel said school resources officers work with a set of tools to keep kids out of harm’s way. At the 9th Grade Center, there are around 200 cameras located throughout the building. Students can also send in anonymous tips that go straight to Scheffel’s cell phone.

When a weapon is found, Scheffel said the action is swift.

“We obviously immediately want to secure the person who we believe has that weapon,” Scheffel said. “They`re brought in and searched. If they drive, the vehicle will be searched. If they have a locker in the building, the locker will be searched as well.”

The district also turns to random searches with IMPD K9 officers and handheld metal detectors. But, Scheffel said the most important tool is the relationships school resource officers build with the students.

“We`re constantly trying to educate the students that it is ok to ‘see something,say something,” Scheffel said.

The most common guns involved in cases around the state are 9 millimeters and 22 caliber pistols.

When shots are fired

Deshanae Gilbert remembers the night she witnessed a shooting as she was leaving a basketball game at Lawrence Central.

“We saw all the blood on the floor,” Gilbert said. “We were all like scared, we didn`t know what to do cause were so young. And it was just so much going on.”

Her friend’s brother was shot that night in 2016. Another student was later convicted for the crime.

“I wasn`t expecting all that to happen,” she said. “It was like so much going on, so many emotions. Some people were hurt.”

Gilbert said she wants to emphasize to other teens that there is no need to resort to violence over conflicts.

“We were so young,” Gilbert said about the night of the shooting. “What do we need a gun for?”

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