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September 27, 2013

EDITORIAL: A strong leader on school safety

Vigo collaboration worthy of study

TERRE HAUTE — While many communities around the state and nation are still searching for the right approach to school safety and security in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre last December, Vigo County has earned recognition as one that sets a standard.

It may not have seemed so at the time, but the collaboration of a diverse set of interests to put an aggressive plan in place for enhancing school security proved to be both innovative and path-forging. And because Vigo County was unwilling to wait around for others to find solutions, it is now being held up as an example of a community that took matters in its own hands and moved quickly to apply lessons learned in Newtown, Conn. In doing so, it shored up its own school security and made students, teachers, parents and residents feel better about their own situations.

On Tuesday, a contingent of Vigo County public officials testified in Indianapolis before an interim legislative study committee on school safety. The committee is looking into possible state responses to the Sandy Hook tragedy and wanted to hear from a community that had taken the lead in improving safety practices and procedures.

In Vigo County, you will recall, a coalition of local law enforcement, government and school officials came together to put school protection officers in each county school building. It was an aggressive, and expensive, plan. But all involved reached a binding consensus that it was the right thing to do.

As Sheriff Greg Ewing explained to the committee in pointed terms, Vigo County decided it was the job of people trained in the proper methods of security and protection to be the first line of defense inside schools in the event of an active shooter such as occurred in Newtown.

“I didn’t go to school to teach,” Ewing told the committee. “I believe teachers and principals don’t need to be worried about doing my job.”

Vigo County’s common-sense approach to the school safety problem was refreshing. While some elements in the legislature last winter were promoting the ridiculous idea that teachers or administrators be required to carry guns as protection in schools, Vigo County’s coalition plowed through the balderdash to craft a far more reasonable plan.

Yes, it’s expensive to have trained protection officers, many of them former or retired cops, working the hallways of our schools. But Vigo County found a way, despite financial challenges brought on by ill-conceived tax caps or cuts in the education budget in recent years.

The legislature still has work to do on this issue. We hope the study committee can make good recommendations, in some cases gleaned from what they learned from Vigo County’s efforts, to make laws better and more adequately fund school safety programs.

 

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