CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Board of Education President Miller Hall says he wants to know where every county school system in West Virginia is when it comes to school safety.
The issue dominated part of the state board’s monthly meeting in Charleston Wednesday. It was the first meeting of the board since the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that claimed the lives of 19 fourth graders and two teachers.
Hall put counties on notice that he wants to know about their plans and training.
“This will be, in the July meeting, this will be the top on this agenda, the top priority,” Hall said. “You can’t educate kids if someone is coming in and taking their lives. Our kids cannot be afraid to go to school.”
County school systems in West Virginia are required by state code to have up-to-date, school-crisis response plans. They are required to hold active shooter training for staff and students.
Miller said it’s time to “dust off” the plans.
“We want to make sure those counties have a plan. We want to make sure they are planning and training before school starts. If not, then they can’t open up their schools,” Miller said.
The state Department of Education said in a Wednesday afternoon news release that emergency response plans are now part of the state’s annual school accountability system and must be uploaded by Aug. 1 to the state Office of Homeland Security’s online portal.
West Virginia Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, an ex officio member of the state Board of Education, said training is important but it’s also important to make schools are secure as possible.
Tucker said she was touched by an interview with an Uvalde teacher that aired earlier this week. The teacher lost all 11 of his students in the shooting.
“He said, ‘I had active shooter training and I did everything I was told to do. I told my kids what to do and they all did it and it lined them up for the slaughter,'” Tucker said. “That is going to stick with me. When we’re thinking about those plans we’ve got to take some of that into consideration.”
Longtime state BOE member Tom Campbell said the reaction to the most recent shooting can produce some positive results but he urged fellow board members not to let that momentum fade as the months and years pass.
“Make sure that we’re continuing to be vigilant. Caring is first. Stop it before it happens but if it does deal with it quickly and be ready. Training ahead of time saves lives,” Campbell said.
The board was urged Wednesday by West Virginia Association of Elementary/Middle School Principals Executive Director Mickey Blackwell to create policies that would require more administrators and counselors in schools that could helped troubled students.
“If a school has a certain number of students they should have a certain number of administrators and they should have a certain number of counselors,” Blackwell said. “We have too many schools that have a half-day counselor and we have too many schools that have a half-day administrator.”
The state board was also updated Wednesday on the state Department of Education’s ongoing relationship with the West Virginia Fusion Center when it comes to school safety.