PLEASANT VALLEY — At the request of students, Marion County agencies are testing metal detectors at the entrances of school buildings.

Since the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas last May, Marion County Schools have been working with local law enforcement and the county’s division of Homeland Security to enhance and update school safety, by reviewing everything from procedures to building entryways.

So far, the sheriff’s office along with other law enforcement have conducted walkthroughs of every school in the county to address weaknesses in every building and to formulate a plan to implement common sense updates such as universal numbering systems and readily available floorplans.

While the data from the walkthroughs are being complied, the county has moved ahead with another security measure — metal detectors.

Recently, Marion County School Superintendent Donna Heston traveled to Monongalia County high schools to observe how their metal detection system flows with the morning rush of students.

Heston fully opposed metal detectors last May. But after input from students and her observations in Mon County, her mind has changed. Monday she and the local homeland security team hosted an information session with high school administrators on how to use the county’s three new metal detectors.

The Marion County Commission purchased three detectors to loan to the school system. The detectors themselves cost around $18,000 each.

For now, they will be used sparingly, with trial runs planned at high schools in the coming weeks.

“The surrounding counties have used these detectors successfully for a while and after discussions with the board of education they decided these would be a useful tool to have,” Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Riffle said. “Equate these to security on an airline. It’ll take some time for folks to get used to it, but I think once folks see how effective it is at keeping something terrible from happening, I think everything will be OK.”

The first step has been dubbed “phase 1” where the detectors will be tried at the county three high schools, each of which offer challenges that will have to be solved in order for the detectors to be effective.

After the data is collected, the school board will decide if scaling up the operation is the next step.

“We’re starting with our high schools and that will be a slow roll out,” Heston said. “The [school] board has been very supportive of the safety and security initiative.”

While preventing guns and other weapons from entering a school building are a priority of these detectors, an added benefit is that the sensitivity of the detectors can be tuned to a setting that can detect the metal elements of vape pens, which have become somewhat of an epidemic in the middle and high schools.

While these security measures may sound extreme, the minds behind the decisions are trying to be proactive for the benefit of the students, the staff and their well-being.

“We want to do everything humanly possible to make sure the students and the staff are safe in all our schools,” Marion County Homeland Security Director Chris McIntire said. “We hope that nothing ever happens in Marion County, but we want to be prepared if something were to happen.”

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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