CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Public schools in West Virginia are becoming safer and more secure as school districts across the nation strive to protect children in the wake of the tragic shootings in Connecticut, the state Board of Education learned Wednesday.
Mark Manchin, director of the West Virginia School Building Authority (SBA), updated the board on how his agency has been working to overhaul access safety and security of schools statewide as part of the School Access Safety Act. Passed in 2007, the act created a safety fund, which has allowed the SBA to distribute about $31.5 million to all 55 counties during the last four years.
“As horrific as Sandy Hook, Columbine and other school shootings were, we’ve learned from these incidences,” Manchin said.
While West Virginia has worked diligently to improve school safety since the law’s passage six years ago, the deaths of 20 elementary students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December has many re-examining school safety. Much of the fund money spent to date in West Virginia has paid for various safety measures, including keyless entries, locking mechanisms on doors, and the numbering of rooms. In addition to digital mapping, all new schools will have panic buttons that when pushed lock down the building and dial 911.
“While academics are the foundation for a solid education, making sure the learning environment is safe is a vital component to our educational mission,” said state Superintendent Jim Phares. “We all share a common goal of protecting our children.”
To further improve safety, the state Board of Education has been collaborating with the SBA, the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and county school districts to create digital maps of the state’s schools for use by first responders should an emergency arise. In addition, legislation passed in 2011 calls for the establishment of an up-to-date school specific crisis response plan at every school in the state. All schools are required to have the plans in place by the coming school year.
“With digital mapping, if there is an incident at a school anywhere in the state of West Virginia, first responders will have access not only to a school’s vulnerabilities, but also its access points,” Manchin said. “The more information we can provide first responders, the better we can protect our children and our staffs.”
For more information, contact the Office of Communication at (304) 558-2699.