Nearly 80% of parents responding to an annual back-to-school survey by a nonprofit, national advocacy group say they are worried about the possibility — and the inevitability, even — of gun violence in their child’s school this coming year.
That’s one of the more-telling results of the annual Schooling in America survey that EdChoice generates every year this time from its headquarters in Indianapolis.
The survey polled 1,504 parents of school-age children, plus another 1,224 adults who don’t have kids in school, this past April and May.
EdChoice has been doing its surveys, which cover all aspects of the school experience, since 2012.
That experience includes homeschooling and charter schools, which are now an academic fact of life in the Mountain State.
The West Virginia Academy, the Mountain State’s first brick-and-mortar charter, in fact, is readying to expand from its main building in Morgantown with a branch campus in Preston County.
Meanwhile, an outside market research agency offered up the EdChoice survey, via telephone and online, and in English and Spanish.
The above finding, EdChoice’s Paul DiPerna said, doesn’t need translating.
Parents, said DiPerna, a vice president of research and innovation, are worried.
“Half the parents show a high level of concern when it comes to school safety,” he said.
Another 30%, he said, are worried about student possession of weapons and how that might work with the physical conflicts and bullying present in any school.
Parents, he continued, are either “extremely” or “very” concerned over the possibility of a violent intruder entering their child’s school.
That hit home, and in the school hallway, in Morgantown and across West Virginia this past December.
A coordinated series of “swatting” hoaxes — the act of calling 911 and faking an emergency, in order to get large contingents of responders to a scene — came in to dispatch centers across the region on the morning of Dec. 7.
If you can get the actual SWAT team there, perpetrators of such hoaxes say, it’s even better.
Morgantown High School and Fairmont Senior High in neighboring Marion County were targeted minutes apart that morning.
Jim Smith, the director of MECCA 911, was on the phone with Chris McIntire, his counterpart in Marion, when the obvious realization hit both emergency response professionals at the same time.
Whoa, both said. We’re getting the same call.
McIntire, the chief of Marion County’s Homeland Security division, was in the middle of the nightmare scenario.
When the call came into his dispatch center, the man on the other end, speaking in accented English, said he was a teacher at Fairmont Senior High School — and that several students had just been shot by a man wielding an assault-style weapon.
He told the dispatcher he was barricaded in his classroom, tending to the wounded, who crawled or ran there, in an attempt to save their lives.
He had just asked Smith for backup, and MECCA’s director was getting ready to put units on Interstate 79, when one of his dispatchers took a call.
From a man with an accent — who identified himself as a teacher at Morgantown High School.
He was hunkered down in his locked classroom, this caller said, because somebody was walking the halls targeting students with an assault weapon. A number of victims, bleeding from their wounds, were sprawled in the room and he was trying to help them, the caller claimed.
“We were on the phone with the caller for 3 minutes and 1 second,” Smith said. “He was answering questions, so we knew it was a real person.”
Nine other emergency dispatch centers in West Virginia got the same call that morning.
“It’s psychological warfare,” said Jim Nolan, a former beat cop who researched hate crimes for the FBI on his way to becoming a WVU sociology professor and chair of the department.
And a symptom of a new reality, DiPerna said, that is reflected in the survey.
Visit www.edchoice.org/ and type “schooling in America” in the search field for a complete breakdown of the responses.
In the meantime, students Mon’s three public high schools will continue to pass through high-tech weapons detectors on their way to class this year.
The local district bought them in response to events in December 2021 at a high school in Michigan. A student was charged with shooting four classmates to death and wounding seven others.