In the wake of a mass shooting last month in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 elementary students and two teachers dead, parents across the nation have felt understandably shaken.
In Zionsville, several parents interviewed by Current have expressed confidence that Zionsville Community Schools is doing everything it can to keep students safe, but they still feel a sense of unease about sending their children to school.
“Generally, I feel like my kids are safe at school, but every time there is a mass shooting, I increasingly feel like it is a matter of when — not if — my kids are involved in a mass shooting as some type of victim: one who is killed, physically injured or psychologically traumatized,” said Abbey Chambers, who will have three children in ZCS elementary schools in the coming school year. “I feel like I have to repress my fears and keep myself numb to the reality of the nation’s gun violence crisis, even though it is a crisis that could be addressed with better gun laws.”
Allie Benham’s 1-year-old son isn’t old enough to attend ZCS, but she has already spent time researching the district’s efforts to protect students. As a survivor of a mass shooting in October 2017 in Las Vegas that left 60 people dead and more than 400 injured, Benham is acutely aware of the public’s vulnerability.
“I don’t know that kids (or adults) are truly safe anywhere – grocery stores, movie theaters, schools,” Benham said. “It can happen anytime, anywhere, and it’s the frequency (with which) they’re happening and the sizable loss of life each time that makes me feel more dejected about safety at public school.”
Benham would like to see ZCS add technology that would send live video feeds from each building to police and equip all classrooms with a solid door jam. However, she believes the most impactful way to improve student safety is by tightening gun laws.
“We need universal background checks, restrictions on mentally ill and domestic abusers. Close the private seller loopholes,” Benham said. “The guns are the problem here. Other countries have crime, they have mental illness, but they don’t have mass shootings at the rate we do in the U.S.”
Deb Weidner, the parent of students at Zionsville Community High School, said she believes ZCS could do more to improve safety, especially by keeping parents better informed about safety-related incidents and potential threats and providing more information about how to speak with their children about these types of situations.
“I am very worried we could be the next school on the news if we don’t secure our schools better and communicate with students and parents,” Weidner said.
Marcia Rosenfeld has four children in ZCS, and she said she has never doubted the district’s commitment to safety. As a former member of the Zionsville Board of Police Commissioners, she got a closer look than most parents at the partnership between ZCS and local law enforcement.
She said the recent shooting made her feel “tentative” about sending her kids to school, but she also feels they are safer there than many public places. Like Benham, she believes tougher gun control laws are the best way to protect students.
“As a country, we decided 10 years ago that the mass murder of a classroom full of kids was the acceptable risk of a lax system of gun regulation, and I don’t expect anything to change. But it is not the responsibility of the schools to fix this. That is a bandaid,” Rosenfeld said. “The legislature has to fix this problem. I have zero confidence that they can untangle themselves from the gun lobby and do what is right. So, the question then becomes when, not if, this will happen in Zionsville, and whose kids we will sacrifice.”
Safety efforts at ZCS
According to Zionsville Community Schools administrators, the district takes a layered approach to school safety, utilizing several tools visible to the community and others that are behind the scenes.
Safety measures include:
- Keeping the outer and inner envelope of the school locked during instructional hours
- Partnerships with law enforcement at the county and town level
- Police officers or sheriff’s deputies assigned to every school
- A districtwide school safety specialist team of more than 30 members (the state requires only one specialist per district)
- An anonymous reporting system
- A team of specialists to engage with special situations involving outside agencies and school employees in behavioral health and more
“The safety of our students, staff and guests on nine school campuses involving nearly 8,000 students is our top priority. Our superintendent, associate superintendent, safety director, nine principals and a half dozen other technical department leaders are literally on call at all times,” said Janet Mann, ZCS chief marketing and communications officer. “Though the work of safety diligence is truly never fully accomplished, we know that our strong training, planning and simulations combine with outstanding law enforcement partnering to make ZCS significantly more prepared and aware than ever before.”