At the Legislature's request, the state Department of Education is to provide, by August, a consistent statewide crisis-response plan for schools that is easily accessible to emergency personnel.
Ron Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said that while some states mandate school safety policies, local school systems could make a big difference on their own.
"You don't have to have a law passed to exercise common sense and good judgment," he said. "Education is a federal concern, a state function and a local responsibility. So the local school district determines much of what is done operationally in the schools."
The Legislature appropriated $30 million over the past three years for county school systems to implement physical safety measures, which include security cameras, card-access entrances, extra exterior doors and locking devices.
That is the best thing school systems can do, Stephens said.
"In terms of school safety, you begin with reasonable steps. You have to ask what reasonable steps can be taken and go through with them. And what has happened certainly suggests the importance of taking those steps," he said. "But, in Connecticut, the man shot through the access-control entrance.
"Even if you have all these things in place, there's no guarantee you'll prevent 100 percent of crime. There are fences that can be easy to climb."
The National School Safety Center helped train thousands of school resource officers with the COPS grants provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, but those programs "have been beaten up by the budget," Stephens said.
"They have significantly reduced. I hope they'll be reactivated, because this is a situation of how vulnerable our schools are. This is a whole new level of exposure," he said. "But local districts are revisiting their safety and security practices. It's happening all over the country."
Kanawha County schools are doing just that.
Kanawha school efforts
Bev Jarrett, director of safety for Kanawha County Schools, met last week with school administrators and law enforcement to revisit a variety of questions.
Do all schools have a consistent plan so that emergency personnel know what to do? Should teachers and students hide or evacuate in an intruder situation? What happens at an elementary level?
Jarrett's title was even changed to "director of safety and security" last week as a way to streamline the system. Before, security responsibilities were split among several administrators.
"In light of what happened in Connecticut, there are bound to be some changes in everyone's plan. We need to make sure something like that couldn't happen here. The very best thing is to have an armed guard in the schools," Jarrett said. "We need a better presence than we have, and it will be a budgeting issue. I'm hoping the federal government comes through with more funding."
The Charleston Police Department has vowed to increase its patrols at schools because of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"We're not worried about anything, to be honest with you," Charleston police Sgt. Bobby Eggleton said at a news conference early last week. "We just want to make sure that the public out there is secure in thinking the police department is there, because we are there. We just want to have a more active presence. We're acting before we react.
"I'm sure . . . from the federal level, they will be asking us to do things," he said, "and whatever they say, we'll do. I'm sure the chief and mayor will have recommendations for us, too."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.