CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dozens of West Virginia public schools have armed law enforcement officers, but the December massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school has officials talking about expanding their presence.
Thirty-two of West Virginia's 55 counties have prevention resource officers at 64 middle and high schools through a U.S. Justice Department program, according to state Department of Education figures. These officers spend at least 35 hours each week at their school, and provide training as well, department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said.
State Schools Superintendent Jim Phares has also informally approached the state National Guard for help assessing schools for safety flaws and threat training for staff.
"This whole thing is emerging quickly,'' Phares told last week's Legislative Lookahead audience.
Phares said officials continue to weigh whether to require armed staff statewide.
"I think we really have to take a look at what message we send if we start arming, putting armed guards and armed teachers in there,'' Phares said. "The first message that I don't want to send is that violence is winning.''
West Virginia now trains school staff to lock down a building and shelter students as securely as possible in response to a threat, Phares said. Phares, a former county superintendent, noted that the threat response policy has evolved as new tragedies test them. He cited how law enforcement followed existing policy when they secured the outside grounds and awaited tactical units at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999. Two students, meanwhile, killed 12 classmates and a teacher while wounding 26 people.
"We're going to have to, after this most recent [violence], continue to evaluate that,'' Phares said Thursday of state policy.