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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new high school is coming to Indianapolis but exclusively for adults.

The Excel Center adult high school will be located on the southeast side at the Paul I. Miller School 114. That’s near Emerson Avenue and Raymond Street.

The school will expand educational options for adults and those who’ve been in the justice system.

Students will earn a Core 40 high school diploma, college credits, and certifications.

“Far too many in our city encounter barriers when seeking to complete a high school diploma as adults. And that is especially true for those neighbors who are seeking to re-enter life after incarceration,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said.

The school is free for adults and plans to open later this year.

News release

“Mayor Joe Hogsett, IPS, Goodwill Announce Plans for Adult High School on Southeast Side

“The Excel Center Southeast has a goal to serve hundreds of students from the city’s south side, with a specific focus on outreach to justice-involved individuals.

“INDIANAPOLIS — Mayor Joe Hogsett, with Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana and Indianapolis Public Schools, announced a new partnership to expand educational options and opportunities for adults, with specific outreach to justice-involved individuals. The Excel Center Southeast adult high school, set to open later this year at Paul I. Miller School 114, will expand access for students to earn a high school diploma, college credits, and industry certifications.

‘Today, far too many adults in our city encounter barriers when seeking to complete a high school diploma, and that’s especially true for those seeking to re-enter life after incarceration or involvement with the justice system,’ said Mayor Joe Hogsett. ‘Thankfully, The Excel Centers have been clearing away those barriers for over a decade. I can’t think of a better reason to set aside $2 million of federal American Rescue Plan funding to accomplish this goal.’

“The Excel Center Southeast received a charter from the Indianapolis Charter School Board in April and is set to operate for the 2023–24 school year. The school, while open to any adult student, will specifically work to connect with justice-involved individuals.

‘We are pleased to partner with Mayor Joe Hogsett and IPS to provide increased education and employment opportunities to families in the Southeast Indianapolis region, with a focus on justice-involved individuals,’ said Kent Kramer, President and CEO of Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana. ‘The Excel Center is an evidence-based model focused on helping adults earn their high school diploma, increase their independence, and reach their potential while preparing them to strengthen Indiana’s workforce.’

“The joint venture between IPS and The Excel Center Southeast creates educational pathways and potential employment opportunities for program graduates. The Excel Center Southeast, which is leasing space inside Paul I. Miller School 114, will share the building with the IPS Facilities Management Department (FMD).

‘Indianapolis Public Schools is excited to join hands with The Excel Center to offer a fresh start and opportunities for continued education for adult students to thrive — not just academically, but also in their journey through life,’ said IPS Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson. ‘Being able to reuse the Paul I. Miller building in this way represents the district’s ongoing efforts to find innovative, progressive pathways to ensuring students, no matter their age, have a safe and welcoming educational environment. It also holds true to our promise to utilize buildings in ways that continue to add value to the community.’

“The Excel Centers in Central and Southern Indiana have graduated more than 7,000 students since the first campus opened in 2010. A recent study by the Lab for Economic Opportunity at the University of Notre Dame showed that Excel Center graduates earn 39 percent more than their peers five years after graduation.

“The $2 million investment comes from the City’s American Rescue Plan allocation, which was unanimously approved by the City-County Council. The Excel Center Southeast will be authorized by the Office of Education Innovation, whose portfolio also includes The Excel Center West, University Heights, Avondale Meadows, Shadeland, Michigan St., and Decatur.”

News release from Shaina Cavazos, Indianapolis Office of Education Innovation; Jennifer Wade of Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana; and Alpha Garrett of Indianapolis Public Schools, issued 2:08 p.m. June 1, 2023 

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — La Tosha Walker is on a mission to make sure her son with autism is getting the education he deserves in Indianapolis Public Schools.

She shared a report from an Indiana Department of Education’s investigation with I-Team 8. The report showed her son missed out on 5,242 instructional minutes in 2022.

Her son Tyrese Walker is enjoying the first days of summer break, but his fifth-grade year was not enjoyable in part because of what happened.

The Department of Education investigation found that Tyrese’s teachers at Edison School of the Arts removed him from class 114 times over 71 days of school.

La Tosha said, “Most of the list says, ‘talking,’ ‘class disruption.’ Those are daily activities that go on in school.”

When Tyrese was taken out of class he was taken to a room in the guidance learning center. “In GLC, you do nothing but sit there and whatever they have you do, but he’s not getting his work, so those are minutes of his education that he’s not receiving,” La Tosha said.

La Tosha told I-Team 8 her son being taken out of class violated his individualized education plan because he has autism. “My son’s autism is sensory, so, with that sensory, sometimes the room could be too loud. It could be too much going on and then it just overstimulates him, so what comes out as being a disruption to some people may be just something he’s trying to work through.”

Walker has a binder full of documents related to her fight to make sure her son is getting the education he deserves. It included the eight-page report from the investigation by the Department of Education.

The report said that her son’s “IEP did make some provision for removal to the GLC, the numbers of such removals and time the student was removed from instruction services was excessive, leading to a denial of free appropriate public education (FAPE).”

The Department of Education told I-Team 8 the report is not finalized. Both sides involved have a chance to ask for reconsideration.

La Tosha acknowledged to I-Team 8 that her son is not perfect, but said that should not prevent him from getting his education. “If my son is doing something and he needs some discipline, send him, but send him with his work. They’re not sending him with work.”

La Tosha suggested any parent with a special needs child should brush up on Article 7, the IPS special education rules, so they can stick up for their kids’ education. “Article 7 is there to back the parents up. You just have to take the time to read it, or find somebody that can help you. We’ve got to start holding these schools accountable for the services our children are supposed to have.”

Walker told I-Team 8 she’s working with IPS on the plan to get her son the 5,242 minutes of education he missed last year.

I-Team 8 reached out to IPS via email and phone for a comment about this situation, but it did not respond by Tuesday afternoon

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Monday marks National 529 Day, which helps families start saving for college.

The money that is contributed to a 529 plan grows tax-free and can be used at any time for qualified education expenses including private school tuition for K-12, college tuition, room and board, books, computers, printers, internet service, as well as graduate schools, trade schools, and apprenticeships.

Alexander Joyce, president and CEO of Rejoyce Financial joined Daybreak to explain more about the plan and how parents can start the process of saving for college.

“529 is what I like to say, a forced way to save for a college education. Better to save early than just let it sneak up on you. One of the best ways that a 529 works is that it is tax deferred. It is the ability to grow money again,” Joyce said.

Watch the video above for the full interview.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana University announced that it has received more than $10 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to increase access to mental health services in schools across the state.

According to a release made Tuesday, the grants are part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which works to combat the mental health crisis in schools.

The IU School of Social Work received a five-year, $5.7 million grant, which will be used to work with several Indiana school districts, including Pike Township in Indianapolis, Tippecanoe School Corporation, and Lafayette School Corporation.

Barbara Pierce, professor at the IU School of Social Work, described in the release that Indiana is full of “mental health deserts.”

“We know there are places in Indiana that have a shortage of mental health providers, so being able to increase mental health services in those geographic areas, particularly to children and youth in schools, allows for us to increase capacity for the state overall,” Pierce said.

Additionally, IU Kokomo, IU East, and IU South Bend earned a $4.4 million grant to address the need for school psychologists.

These schools will work with the Addressing Regional School Psychologist Shortages project, and work with the Kokomo School Corporation, Richmond Community Schools, and South Bend Community School Corporation to provide them direct access to mental health professionals.

“There are school districts in Indiana that haven’t had a school psychologist in nearly a decade because of the severe shortage of professionals,” Leah Nellis, professor of education at IU Kokomo, said in the release.

Nellis added, “Much of mental health care is relationships, and when you’re only able to offer part-time or virtual services, there’s no opportunity to build those relationships or community.”

These grants will add to the work the School of Education in Bloomington is doing to recruit, train, and retrain school counselors in the Richland Beanblossom Community School District. It also aligns with IU 2030, the university’s plan to impact communities and support mental wellness across Indiana.

PERRY TOWNSHIP, Ind. (WISH) — A father of a high school student on Monday said he hopes new weapons detectors at two high schools deter students from bringing guns into the buildings.

John Haub said his daughter alerted officials after another student showed her a weapon at Perry Meridian High School this spring. He said he had talked to her earlier in her school career about remaining calm and telling authorities if she ever saw one.

“Just to make light of the situation to where they wouldn’t run or get spooked and try to do something with it,” he said. “I’m proud that she reacted the way she did. Luckily, the school did what they were supposed to.”

Haub said he hoped a move by the Perry Township School Board would reduce the chances another student will have to do the same thing. At a special meeting early Monday morning, the board voted unanimously to approve a $1.5 million contract for a set of advanced weapons detectors. The detectors will be installed at all student entrances at the school corporation’s two high schools, Perry Meridian and Southport. Associate Superintendent Chris Sampson said officials made the decision in response to the general security environment rather than any one particular incident.

“It will help keep our campuses safe and secure,” he said. “I’m not pretending to know that this will change the conversation out in the neighborhoods in Marion County but it will on our school campuses.”

School officials said their records show 10 incidents this past school year in which students were caught with weapons at the two schools. At least two such incidents involved handguns and two more involved knives. In each case, school officials said they were able to resolve the situation and there was no indication the student was planning an attack.

Sampson said the system is sensitive enough to pick up individual parts of guns as well as complete firearms. If it detects a weapon, staff will pull the student aside for a more thorough search. He said students will not have to remove their backpacks or any clothing in order to go through. Sampson said the system should be able to distinguish between weapons and harmless objects and any false positives can be resolved with a secondary search. The scanners will be portable, so they can be used at outdoor events such as football games as well.

The money for the system will come from an existing school improvement bond. Haub said he would have been willing to pay higher taxes to cover the costs of the system had it come to that. Besides the direct effect of detecting weapons, Haub said the mere presence of the system might be enough to deter some students from bringing them in the first place.

“I know they’re going to try to find a way around this but at least it slows them down long enough to think about it,” he said. “Metal detectors should have been in about five or six years ago if you want to know the truth.”

Sampson said the system should be fully operational by mid-September. The contract is for four years but he said the equipment itself has a projected service life of more than 20 years thanks to frequent software updates. The school corporation will own the system outright.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana University Police Department teamed up with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to launch an internship program last fall.

Students earn credit hours toward their capstone requirement.

IUPD Detective Sarah McKalips leads the program. “We’re working on a lot of homicides, batteries, aggravated assaults. We do have some child abuse cases. The students typically don’t work on those cases because of the sensitive nature.”

Students are taught how to properly handle a phone or computer once it is checked into evidence. A log is taken each time someone checks the evidence out.

Much like searching a home, investigators need a warrant to search someone’s phone.

“It depends on what’s laid out in the warrant, text messages, emails,” Simpson said.

McKalips testified in a homicide and robbery case on some key digital evidence that helped deliver a guilty verdict. “One of the suspects was convicted and got 50 years that he has to serve as a result of text messages and call logs between him and the victim.”

As more people rely on their phones for nearly everything, there is a growing need for detectives to help solve crimes committed on these devices.

“There’s so much data on these devices and there are so many people in the world utilizing these devices, so the more people we have working on digital forensics to help solve these crimes and reduce that backlog,” she said.

Students who take the internship can also apply the skills they learn to help solve cases of intellectual theft and insider trading.

PENDLETON, Ind. (WISH) — The counselor fired from South Madison Community School Corp. earlier this year knew she could potentially lose her job when she confirmed information to a member of the media.

That is according to Tony Kinnett. Kinnett is an investigating columnist who writes for the Daily Signal, a conservative American political media news website.

The fired Pendleton Heights High School counselor, Kathy McCord, sued the school district this week. A 72-page lawsuit was filed in federal court in Indianapolis. She alleges violations of her First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights, and wants her job back.

With the help of McCord, Kinnett broke the story of the district’s policy preventing teachers and counselors from telling parents their students wanted to be called by a different pronoun.

The school board later fired McCord to confirming the existence of the policy to Kinnett.

Now, Kinnett is sharing details about the conversation that ultimately led to McCord getting fired. “I did drive out to her house at about 8:30 at night,” Kinnett told I-Team 8.

McCord has told News 8 she was just being honest with Kinnett by confirming the information.

Kinnett says McCord was aware of the potential consequences when he published his column. “Kathy didn’t want to be fired, doesn’t want to have been fired, but yet she did have an idea that she might be fired,” Kinnett said.

Kinnett believes everyone, no matter their political stances, should be allowed to be a whistleblower without the fear of being fired. “Whether they’re on the left, right, or center should be protected and being able to say, ‘This is what’s going on,'” Kinnett said. “I do think you could see more whistleblowers in the future. I certainly hope so. and I hope that they’re protected.”

I-Team 8 called South Madison school superintendent to get an interview. He did not call back.

PENDLETON, Ind. (WISH) — Kathy McCord worked for South Madison Community School Corp. at Pendleton Heights High School as a counselor for 25 years.

She says she was fired after she did not conform to the district’s Gender Support Plan and spoke about it publicly to a reporter.

Now, she’s suing the school district.

The plan instructed school staff to keep students’ requests to change their gender or pronouns at school private from parents if the students asked. McCord says she believes it is wrong for information about their child’s gender identity to be kept from parents.

“And I became very concerned about that, and I voiced my concerns to my administration but was told that I had to follow that plan,” McCord said.

In March, I-Team 8 reported McCord sent an email to other teachers asking them to not support the Gender Support Plan that took effect in August. Also, McCord spoke to a reporter about the plan last year.

“Ultimately I was approached by a reporter who parents had contacted about this policy, and he wanted to ask me questions about the policy, and I answered his questions truthfully and confirmed them,” McCord said.

Her lawsuit filed Thursday claims a free speech violation.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing McCord. Vincent Wagner, one of her attorneys, said, “The core claim is public employees like Kathy can’t be fired for speaking out on what’s going on in the school, for things that matter in their community and they can’t be forced to give up their core beliefs to keep their job.”

Opponents of disclosing gender and pronoun change to parents when a child is uncomfortable say it could pose a safety risk to students. McCord believes parents should be involved in all major decisions regarding their children.

“You know as a Christian we know god gives us the children to take care of and as parents that’s what we’re supposed to do until they’re ready to do that themselves,” McCord said. “And I’ve experienced that a lot with parents at school and worked with those parents through some of these trials. And as a parent, I can’t imagine how upset I would be to find out my child is going through a difficult time like that and I was kept out of that.”

Multiple people spoke in support of McCord at school board meetings over the course of her suspension and firing. At least one person spoke in support of transgender people.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Indianapolis.

McCord says she wants to become an educator again.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Perry Township School Board on Monday morning will consider a plan to install weapons detection systems at several doors to Perry Meridian and Southport high schools.

General obligation bonds marked for repairs and renovations will fund the project and a four-year service plan, says a contractor’s document shared publicly on Thursday afternoon. Total cost would be nearly $1.5 million.

“The Evolve Weapons Detection system meets our specs which included the integration with other security systems we currently have in place,” the document says.

The system will use an “electromagnetic field and low frequency technologies” to find guns, large knives and explosive threats, the document says.

The school board meeting was scheduled for 8 a.m. Monday at the Perry Township Education Center, 6548 Orinoco Ave.

Both high schools serve Grades 9-12.

Perry Meridian High School reported 2,371 students on Oct. 1, according to an Indiana Department of Education database. The school is located on Meridian School Road west of State Road 135/South Meridian Street.

Southport High School reported 2,326 students on Oct. 1. The school is located on East Banta Road east of U.S. 31/South East Street.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A counselor fired from Pendleton Heights High School in March has sued the school district in federal court.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the district court in Indianapolis.

Before the South Madison School Board fired Kathy McCord, she was put on administrative leave in December for telling other teachers at the Pendleton school not to support the district’s new Gender Support Plan. The plan, which began in August, provides students with a confidential document they can fill out alerting school officials of their preferred pronouns. In the district’s plan, students can also choose to keep that information confidential from their parents or school staff.

Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent McCord, a 37-year educator, in the 72-page lawsuit. The conservative Christian legal advocacy group has sought to expand Christian practices within public schools and in government, to outlaw abortion, and to curtail rights for LGBTQ people.

The lawsuit says McCord’s First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights were violated with her firing. She is seeking reinstatement to her job, back pay and monetary reparations for damages upon reinstatement, and a permanent injunction to prohibit McCord from participating in the Gender Support Plan.

On May 4, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law a requirement that schools notify a parent if a student requests a name or pronoun change at school, one of the final bills approved in a legislative session that had targeted LGBTQ+ people in the state, especially students.

Indiana’s name and pronouns law, which goes into effect July 1, would require school officials to provide written notification to a child’s parent or guardian within five business days of the child asking to be called a different “pronoun, title, or word,” according to the bill. It also prohibits, from prekindergarten through third grade, instruction on “human sexuality,” something that is not defined in the bill.

“I believe in parental rights,” Holcomb said in a statement. “I also just believe its commonsense that sex education should not be taught in prekindergarten through third grade.”

Also, Holcomb in April signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for minors in Indiana