The Times West Virginian

January 13, 2013

Sadly, there’s no perfect solution to security and safety at schools

Times West Virginian

— Discussions are under way throughout the nation in the wake of last month’s deadly school shootings in Connecticut that left 20 young students and six school personnel dead.

What are the best steps that can be taken to ensure security and safety at the nation’s schools?

It’s a concern everywhere, and Marion County is certainly no exception.

Superintendent of Schools Gary Price said lockdown drills have been done at some of the schools. He said Marion County Schools continues to review procedures and safety measures. Principals, teachers, parents and community members have been offering helpful ideas for consideration.

It’s obvious that input from those closest to each school; must be seriously considered. Those folks know best what those schools need.

The issue has also been in front of the Marion County Board of Education.

The idea of placing Prevention Resource Officers in county schools was discussed during last Monday’s meeting.

“The fact is, we have to figure out a way to protect the chil­dren,” said Ted Offutt, retired Fairmont police chief and current director of the Marion County Day Report Center.

The state’s Prevention Resource Officer (PRO) Program, which is under the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services, had 66 officers stationed in 66 schools in 28 counties during the 2011-12 school year. Thirty-three PROs were funded through the Justice Assistance Grant Program and 15 through the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program, and 18 were paid for locally.

Offutt, who was also a substi­tute teacher, urged people to talk to their congressional representa­tives about obtaining more money for grant programs that would fund PROs.

He believes that having a trained, veteran police officer in uniform working with a school offers the best chance for protection. The program, which focuses on preven­tion, mentoring and safety, puts officers on duty in middle and high schools for a minimum of 35 to 40 hours a week, and those individuals are also present dur­ing extracurricular activities dur­ing the year.

Offutt said the Marion County Commission has expressed its support of the PRO Program. If Marion County is interested in this program, he noted, it needs to start working on the grant process soon because many counties will also be applying for funding.

The idea surely has merit, but it is not without problems. As noted, there were 66 such officers in place around the state last year. Marion County alone has 22 public schools. The program focuses on middle and high schools. The Connecticut shootings took place at an elementary school.

Funding has to be a concern. Federal assistance could be available in the short term, but what about a long-term commitment in a federal environment where budget-cutting is a high priority and, unfortunately, memories of the deadly 2012 tragedy fade?

Placing officers in each school, of course, isn’t the only option out there.

Offutt, for example, suggested that law enforcement from different municipalities could adopt a school and send a police car there at certain parts of the day as time and workload allow. That presence in front of the school could help deter people wanting to cause harm, Offutt said.

Another idea is to ask for volunteers from parent-teacher organizations to walk the halls of the school or stand outside the building, serving as another set of eyes, he added.

We’ll continue to have the discussion on school security, as we must, while knowing that if murderers are willing to give up their own lives in pursuit of evil — as was the case in Connecticut and at others mass shooting at such sites as Virginia Tech and Columbine — there is so little that can be done.

Security systems can be breached. Personnel can be overpowered. Weapons can end up in the wrong hands.

There are no guarntees in life, no perfect solutions.

That just adds to the sadness of the senseless taking of innocent lives.