CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — As threats circle schools in West Virginia and throughout the country of school shootings and other terroristic acts, mass numbers of concerned parents are calling into school systems asking what’s being done to keep their children safe.
“That’s not a bad thing because I like to have those phone calls come in where we have parents that have concerns or see something that they feel is a safety or security risk,” said Ken Winkie, director of safety and discipline for Harrison County Schools. “I don’t mind getting phone calls like that; I look into them, and when things like this happen, I do get phone calls or I get phone calls of, ‘What are we doing?'”
While schools do enforce various measures and practice drills, the threats themselves are investigated by law enforcement.
“As a school we can only do so much,” Winkie said. “If you look at that horrific incident in Florida, the school did what they could do — eject the student from the school, and at that point, it becomes a judicial court issue.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that schools aren’t taking every action necessary to keep students as safe as possible.
All entries to schools must be locked, requiring any non-student to be buzzed in by the office, which Winkie — along with local law enforcement — checks during unannounced drills at various times through the school year.
“We just ran some this past fall, and a vast majority of schools we couldn’t get in, through side doors or anything,” he said.
Winkie has been performing those types of drills since 2012, not only to assure the measures are taken at all times but also to check for improvements.
“The schools have really increased their security awareness, including all staff, not just educators but also service personnel,” he said.
In addition to drills to prepare educators and service personnel, area law enforcement agencies — from city agencies and sheriff’s departments to the State Police — host their own drills at the schools.
“I bring all people in from law enforcement on all those levels because if there’s an actual shooting, as you saw down in Florida or at any of them, all law enforcement responds,” Winkie said. “What we do with that active shooter training, there’s blanks, but there’s different firearms used throughout the school so that our educators and service personnel know what it sounds like.”
It’s a sound that frightens educators, one they hope to never hear in a real-life situation.
“One of the things I say when I do these trainings with everybody is, ‘I’m not here to scare you. I’m here to prepare you,'” Winkie said.
Nevertheless, keeping students safe isn’t only about being prepared for the event if it happens; it’s also preventing such tragedies from happening in the first place.
Harrison County Schools practice a program called “Evolution,” designed to help students, like Nikolas Cruz, who have disciplinary issues that are becoming problematic.
“We have a smaller school setting for them, they have counseling sessions, and we work with the outside providers if they’re getting outside services too for that counseling to help them be able to re-assimilate back into a large school setting,” Winkie said.
Winkie does believe, however, that kind of intervention needs to continue beyond a student’s 13 years in the public school system.
“Mental illness doesn’t disappear when a juvenile turns 18,” he said. “Is there something that needs to be done and a test performed before being authorized or allowed to buy a firearm?”