Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Safe Schools effort works to protect 30,000 students

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No school is completely safe from tragedy, whether it is due to an attack or a natural disaster, but over the past few months police and schools in Porter County have built up their own line of defense just in case such an event strikes here.

A few key members of the Porter County Safe Schools Commission briefed the Porter County Board of Commissioners Tuesday on steps they have taken to keep the “30,000-ish” students in the county safe during school hours.

Valparaiso Police Chief Michael Brickner said the commission, which was created by state statute, has been inactive for a number of years but a sudden rise in violence in schools around the nation late last year spurred action to revive the mission.

Recent incidents, specifically the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, have made local agencies realize that they have to be better prepared, Brickner said. “It’s not so much if something were to happen here, but when.”

First meeting in October, Brickner said the Safety Commission now meets at least once a month and has expanded to nearly 100 members. Represented are all municipal police departments including the county sheriff’s police, juvenile justice services, emergency responders, school security officers, and Porter County Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper.

The group is collectively analyzing and developing safety plans for each school so they have the resources needed in an emergency.

“This is a county-wide effort,” said Brickner.

Harper said the effort includes all schools from large districts like the Duneland School Corporation, Valparaiso Schools and East Porter County Schools, to smaller private institutions like the Montessori schools in Chesterton and Valparaiso.

“It’s our joint responsibility to keep each and every one of these children safe,” Harper said.

Already this year, Brickner said, the revived safety commission has provided training and equipment to schools in need of them and assisted with drills. Layout plans of school buildings are shared with the different departments so that first responders can react efficiently, he said.

There is also a focus on identifying students at risk of becoming juvenile offenders and reaching out to help those students.

For the future, Brickner said the commission hopes to widen its base, providing resources and assessing the safety needs of daycare centers and early intervention centers.

They also would like to develop a website and create a “central repository” for school safety plans and continually share information.

Brickner said the commission has identified three things they hope to gain - acknowledgment, visibility and financial support. He and Harper spoke of the need to create a new school safety officer position to coordinate efforts of the commission and to write grants.

Brickner said that VPD has a director of school safety on its staff who has been active in helping out the county-wide commission.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said he appreciates what the group has been doing and would be willing to support the effort by allocating money from the county economic development income tax. He said he would join school safety commission members in requesting funds from the County Council for the new position for the upcoming year.

Harper suggested the new position could be paid on a contractual basis, possibly through the county court’s funding.

Evans added that living in a rural community such as Porter County, most residents tend to think that a school attack will not happen here, but there are risks just as in any other spot in the country.

“We all need to be cognizant that it could happen anywhere,” he said.

Brickner said school violence has happened here, at Valparaiso High School in 2004 when a student brought a machete and a saw to school and wounded seven of his schoolmates.

“We live in a world where anything is possible,” Brickner said.


Posted 5/8/2013