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West Virginia ‘guardian program’ could enhance school security, lawmakers say

Dark fears — expressed in the form of data research.

Nearly 80% of parents responding to an annual back-to-school survey last summer by a nonprofit, national advocacy group said they were worried about the possibility — the inevitability, even — of gun violence in their child’s school for the coming 2023-24 academic year.

That was one of the more telling results of the Schooling in America survey that EdChoice publishes every July from its headquarters in Indianapolis.

The survey from that previous spring polled 1,504 parents of school-age children, plus another 1,224 adults who don’t have kids in school.

And another 30% were also concerned about student possession of weapons — and how that might factor with the physical conflicts and bullying that are facts of life for many students.

Parents, the survey chronicled further, were either “extremely” or “very” concerned over the possibility of a violent intruder entering their child’s school.

Those fears were once again borne out in Perry, Iowa, a small town just outside Des Moines this past Jan. 4.

In the first incident of gun violence in an American school in the new year, a 17-year-old student opened fire in the cafeteria of Perry High, which also houses middle school students, during breakfast that first morning back from Christmas break.

An 11-year-old student was shot dead and six others were wounded before the gunman turned his weapon on himself.

Principal Dan Marburger, who was hailed a hero by shielding students during the assault, died of his wounds Sunday, Iowa media outlets reported.

Academically armed

The Friday before, in Charleston, state lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 143, which would create another layer of vigilance in K-12 schools among West Virginia’s 55 districts.

SB 143 would be the foundation for the West Virginia Guardian Program, which would allow local school boards to hire independent contractors for the purpose of armed security on school campuses.

Applicants would carry concealed weapons and wouldn’t be considered official law enforcement nor have arrest powers.

Among the main requirements for the job, an applicant would have to be an honorably discharged veteran, a former state trooper or deputy sheriff — or a former federal law officer.

That’s in addition to holding a carry permit and undergoing drug screenings.

Certification in weapons training through State Police, or other sanctioned lethal force programs recognized by the state, would also be a requirement.

Republican Sen. Laura Wakim Chapman of Ohio County called the bill a crucial step toward making state public schools safer.

“Our teachers, our staff and our children deserve to go to school every day knowing that they will come home at night,” the lawmaker said, in her support of the bill.

Fortifying to be done

In the meantime, school districts across the state are doing what they can to enhance the safety of their buildings.

All of Monongalia County’s buildings are outfitted with Safe School entrances, including “man trap” portals and windows outfitted with ballistics glass.

Students in Mon’s three public high schools walk through high-tech weapons detectors on their way to homeroom every morning, and in neighboring Marion County, the district is implementing facial recognition technology to confirm the identities of students and staff on any given school day.

A total of 299 of the state’s 637 schools, meanwhile, have yet to be outfitted with such safe entrances, according to the West Virginia School Safety and Security Report, released in November by the state Department of Education.

There are 318 buildings across West Virginia that have to be staffed by uniformed resource officers, who patrol hallways and campus grounds, also noted in that report.

A shooting at a school in suburban Detroit in November 2021 prompted officials in Mon’s district to purchase the weapons detectors now in use.

Ethan Crumbley, then 17, shot four classmates to death while wounding seven others.

Accountability and consequences

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his crimes, and, in a then-unprecedented legal action, his parents were also arrested and charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter — one for each slaying.

That was after they failed to remove their son from school over concerns about his behavior, officials said.

On the day of the shooting, counselors, teachers and administrators called a meeting with the student and his parents after discovering notebook drawings by him depicting gun violence.

He was also shopping online for ammunition during class time, they said.

Minutes after his parents left that meeting, Crumbley emerged from a restroom and began shooting in the main hallway.

His parents are set to stand trial Jan. 23.

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