VALPARAISO | The city is applying for a grant to develop a coordinated plan with other Porter County agencies to improve school safety.
The Valparaiso Board of Public Works and Safety approved a request from the Police Department's school safety director, Pat Swanson, to apply for the $52,000 grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. The city won't know until spring if the grant is approved, and the project would take about a year to complete.
Swanson said a safe schools committee has been working for several months to develop a coordinated set of policies and procedures for school emergencies, such as the shootings that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month.
The committee involves most of the Porter County schools, including several parochial schools, Porter County Education Services, the juvenile probation and detention offices, the county Emergency Management Agency, the school safety specialists and resource officers, the juvenile courts, the Portage and Valparaiso police departments and the Porter County Sheriff's Department.
"The goal is to enhance a safe and secure learning environment for all," Swanson said. "We will do it by aligning the plans, protocols, policies and procedures for a coordinated effort for school safety. Law enforcement will be coming up with common procedures to follow. We hope to have it ready by March 2014."
The grant will be used to hire an outside agency to help complete safety assessments for all the schools and review the existing policies and procedures. Swanson said the committee hopes to have at least 10 school districts and three police departments involved in the process.
"Police Chief Mike Brickner and Assistant Chief Richard Spicer have been on this for some time, and it's finally coming together," she said. "It says something about Porter County. It says: Our children come first.
"You can't prevent (an event like the Newtown, Conn., shootings), but you can mitigate it. The effort is to make the schools as safe as possible. I think we will be able to do a lot. We have a lot of good people with a lot of expertise. This group is very committed to school safety."