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The Year in News: Education 2018

From the The Year in News: Top Stories of 2018 series

School safety tops headlines following two school shootings in Indiana

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School Shooting

Many topics including teacher salaries, anti-bullying efforts, and sex education were among the top education stories in 2018, but with high-profile school shootings in Noblesville and Richmond, safety was at the top of most parents' lists of concerns. 

Here's a look at our top stories related to education in 2018. Click the titles to link to the original articles.

8. Sex Education

Beginning this academic year, teachers in Indiana’s public schools require permission from parents before instructing their children on sex.

Senate Enrolled Act 65 took effect July 1 and makes it illegal for schools to provide lessons on human sexuality without a written consent form from the parent or guardian of each student. State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, the bill’s author, said it would act as a check and ensure that teachers across the state are only teaching what is written into the curriculum.

Indiana law requires that schools teach abstinence-only sex education, preventing teachers from giving students any details about birth control, condoms or sexually-transmitted diseases.

We’re going to type that sentence again, just in case you skimmed over it: Indiana law requires that schools teach abstinence-only sex education, preventing teachers from giving students any details about birth control, condoms or sexually-transmitted diseases.

7. McCormick Not Seeking Re-Election in 2020

Jennifer McCormick, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced she would not be seeking re-election in 2020. The news comes less than halfway through her first term in office. The surprise announcement came Oct. 2 as McCormick addressed the Indiana Department of Education's 2019 legislative priorities.

McCormick was voted into office in 2016 when she defeated Democrat Glenda Ritz. At the time, Ritz was the only Democrat elected to statewide office. When she took office, in January 2017, McCormick outlined plans to reduce the state's teacher shortage and update graduation requirements to help produce a "skilled and ready workforce."

6. Anti-Bullying

After finding more than half of schools in Indiana are not reporting bullying incidents, lawmakers have passed legislation that aims to resolve the issue. House Enrolled Act 1356, which was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb March 14, contains a number of elements to address the issue.

The bill, which was authored by Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, would ensure that the reports do not affect a school corporation’s overall performance grade given by the state. To make sure the intimidation is reported, even with the assurance that it will not affect school grades, the bill also requires IDOE to send a letter to schools, electronically or physically, reminding schools of the reporting policy.

The latest data report in Indiana, provided online by the Indiana Department of Education, shows that 55 percent of schools throughout Indiana reported zero incidents for the 2016-17 school year. One potential cause is not having a clear definition of bullying, which legislature and IDOE are working to get a handle on.

5. School Funding

A Senate committee Jan. 11 approved legislation that would ensure Indiana’s K-12 schools have enough funds for all students.

The Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed Senate Bill 189, authored by committee chair Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, which would permit a transfer from the state tuition reserve fund to cover the cost of all enrolled students and, by extension, prevent schools from making cuts.

Indiana Senate Democrats said they will push for $150 million in wage hikes for teachers as part of their agenda in the 2019 legislative session when the state’s next two-year budget will be set. 

The Indiana State Teachers Association, in announcing its 2019 legislative agenda, said results of a recent survey show that Hoosiers agree that teachers need more money in their paychecks. The survey conducted by Emma White Research found that 72 percent of Hoosiers believe teachers are paid too little, 70 percent say public schools in the state need more funding and 86 percent support increased funding for classroom instruction.

4. ISTEP Scores Are Out and Disappointing

The wait for parents, students and teachers to see the spring 2018 ISTEP+ test results finally ended in October. The Indiana Department of Education postponed the planned release of the results in early September because two issues with the test were discovered. IDOE wanted to wait until the issues were resolved. They involved a 10th grade mathematics graphing item and third though eighth and 10th grade document image reconciliation associated with the final ISTEP+ spring 2018 results.

The overall ISTEP+ scores showed slight changes statewide for grades three through eight and 10. Only grade 10 English language arts—ELA—and math scores showed improvement. The ELA scores climbed 1.7 percent from last year to reach 60.7 percent of students passing. Math scores rose 2.3 percent to 36.9 percent passing and the percentage of students passing both tests increased to 34.4 percent, a gain of 2.2 percent. Everywhere else the scores were flat or showed slight decreases.

3. Local Universities Distance Themselves from  'Papa John'

In August, the Ball State University Board of Trustees reversed their controversial support for “Papa John” Schnatter. The board approved a motion renaming of the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise and the return of funds donated by the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation.

Also this summer, the Purdue Board of Trustees said that the university’s economics center, the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research at Purdue, should revert to the Purdue University Research Center in Economics. Purdue also offered to return $8 million in funds associated with the naming.

2. Roncalli Discrimination

In August, Shelly Fitzgerald, a 15-year veteran of the Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, was beginning the new school year when she was called into a meeting. When she arrived, Roncalli President Dr. Joe Hollowell and Principal Chuck Weisenbach showed her a copy of her marriage license. It showed her spouse was her wife, Victoria. They had been married four years and together for over 20.

“In short, I was going to be let go,” stated Fitzgerald. “However, I had options: 1. Dissolve my marriage. 2. Resign. 3. Quietly ride out the school year with the understanding that my contract would not be renewed at the end of the year. 4. If I chose to ride out the school year, risk early termination if information about my situation became to 'boisterous.'”

Fitzgerald, who has been since been suspended, balked at this idea.

In the months since, she has seen students, parents, and supporters across the country rise in solidarity with her cause. A few weeks after the controversy broke, Fitzgerald appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where $25,000 was donated to the new Shelly's Voice Advocacy Group. Groups including DignityUSA, Indiana Youth Group, and New Ways Ministry have rushed to her defense. Nov. 15, she and her supporters held a press conference at the Southside Democrat Club where she announced litigation in the case.

1. School Shootings

Indiana joined other states around the nation this year when a student opened fire at a Middle School. On May 25, a male student at Noblesville West Middle School asked to be excused from class to use the restroom. When he returned, he had two handguns and he started firing. He shot 13-year-old Ella Whistler in the chest and science teacher Jason Seaman three times, in the abdomen, hip and forearm. Seaman charged the student with the gun, swatted the weapon away and tackled him.

It’s no coincidence nearly every public school in Indiana has requested a hand-held metal detector to enhance safety in local buildings. In all, 3,228 will be distributed to school districts through a program unveiled earlier this summer. The program makes available one metal detector for every 250 students to any school that wants them, at the cost of the state.

In August, Holcomb released a study on school safety that recommends regular active shooting drills and boosting mental health spending to identify troubled students and enhance services available.

A shooting shortly after 8 a.m. Dec. 16 at Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond has resulted in the death of the teenage suspect, according to the Indiana State Police. No other injuries to students or faculty have been reported.

 

Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

Writer - Local Government and Justice

My background is that I'm the fourth generation in my family to work as a journalist. I also have a degree from Indiana University in Elementary Education. My wife, Ash, and I have two children, Harper, 4, and Emerald, 1.