Portage, IN – A school district superintended threatened city officials and the Portage Police Department with legal action on Wednesday, after the department and mayor sent two additional school resource officers to help patrol local schools at no cost to the district.
"Neither have the right,” Portage Township School Superintendent Amanda Alaniz told The Times of Northwest Indiana. “How dare he and the mayor override our larger plan?”
The disagreement over school security measures amped up on Wednesday, when Portage Police Chief Troy Williams assigned two officers to the schools in addition to the two school resource officers that had worked in the district in the past.
But when the new officers arrived at Fegely Middle School and Portage High School West, school officials sent them away.
Undeterred, the officers simply stationed themselves out in the parking lots.
Chief Williams sent them back to the schools on Thursday and Friday, but they received the same treatment and spent their days outside.
"You can't say you are committed to safe schools when you refuse free officers," Chief Williams told The Times on Friday.
Alaniz blasted Chief Williams and Portage Mayor James Snyder for assigning the officers to the schools, and said she specifically asked them not to send police before the new academic year began on Wednesday.
"Saying that we are not caring for our students is unspeakable," Alaniz told The Times. "The problem is they want it their way. They have made it clear that they don't want any other agency in the schools except Portage."
Alaniz argued that the additional officers were not a part of the district’s comprehensive school safety program, and that their presence had not been approved of by the school board.
Chief Williams and Snyder first announced their plan to assign two new school resource officers to the district back in May, following the school shooting in Noblesville, Indiana.
The two officers who had already been working in the school would remain there, the chief and mayor said.
Approximately one month later, Alaniz announced that the school district instead planned to hire part-time SROs from a pool of police officers from multiple jurisdictions, and that it would no longer accept the services of the two full-time Portage SROs who had been working in the schools.
When the chief and mayor balked at the district’s plan to cut the full-time SRO positions that had already been established, the district did an about-face, and agreed to let the two Portage officers remain.
The remaining positions would be filled by the part-time officers from various departments, she said.
Alaniz said the city and police chief had overstepped by sending two additional officers to the schools without the board’s approval.
"This letter serves as notification that Portage Township Schools expects the Portage Police Department and the city of Portage to adhere to the parameters outlined in our agreed-upon and board-approved school safety plan,” she wrote in a letter to city officials on Wednesday. “In the event that this does not occur, Portage Township Schools will take the necessary actions up to and including filing an injunction detailing the actions invading the legal right of the school district to carry out our necessary operations in regard to the board-approved SRO plan.”
“Furthermore, Portage Township Schools may possibly withhold payment for the assigned SROs and reconsider the finalization of the [Memorandum of Understanding] due to the violation of this state statute," Alaniz wrote.
She added that the district has hired 10 new SROs to fill the part-time positions.
According to Chief Williams, the school district’s comprehensive approach to school safety and security boasted that they would have “up to ten-plus SRO’s in the district at any given time,” but that the statement was misleading, he wrote in a Facebook post.
“The…multi-jurisdiction approach the corporation is taking is having our two full-time Portage Police officers…and a pool of off-duty officers from other agencies…that fill two positions per day for a total of four officers in the district at any given time,” the chief explained in the post.
“The preferred method for an SRO is a full-time person, but a part-time can be done. I must note that no one is saying the officers that are selected won't be good officers, it’s just different not having the same one all the time,” he added.
Despite, Alaniz’s threat of legal action, the chief and mayor would still like to supply the school district with two Portage SROs at no cost to the schools, he said.