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Tom Miller: U.S. Attorney makes sound recommendations for school safety

Jun. 15, 2013 @ 10:05 PM

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting spree at a Connecticut elementary school last December when 20 children and six adults were shot to death, school officials and law enforcement officials in every state have been exploring options to prevent such a horrific event from being repeated in their jurisdictions.

Here in West Virginia, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin presented his recommendations as a 10-point agenda to make this state's schools safer at a state educators conference in Charleston last week. These include installing locked single-entry points that allow school officials to see potential visitors, installation of emergency buttons that broadcast a school-wide alarm and call police, and the placement of more police officers, retired officers and veterans in schools.

Goodwin organized a so-called "Summit on West Virginia Safe Schools" in February, just two months after the tragic event at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He said the tragic event there was a "national tragedy" and "an urgent call for action on the issue of school safety."

The statistics on the problem of school shootings indicates that three-fourths of the public school shootings in this nation can be traced back to incidents of bullying and harassment. So Goodwin's agenda calls for implementing what he describes as "anti-bullying strategies."

Another critical aspect of Goodwin's plan is a new video designed to educate young people about the potential problems and dangers associated with prescription drug abuse.

And he also believes it would be helpful to enlist the help of more law enforcement officers along with retired police officers and veterans in a Prevention Resource Officers Corps who would be placed in schools as "prevention resource officers."

He also suggests that state government, presumably the State Department of Education, develop a statewide program to identify potentially violent students early and intervene to prevent problems later.

One of the recommendations that may cause some parental concerns is the proposal to "conduct an active shooter drill at least once a year," with the participation of law enforcement officials. He notes that there hasn't been a child killed by a fire in a school in 50 years but "we still do drills. We need to have that same vigor with school violence."

Goodwin's proposal also includes the installation in all public schools of emergency buttons and shatter-resistant materials on glass windows and door panels. And possibly the most difficult step would be the development of a statewide program to identify the potentially violent students in the public schools.

Obviously there is no guarantee that whatever steps are taken to make this state's public schools safer for the students and teachers as well will prevent all incidents of potential violence. But these efforts clearly will greatly lessen the likelihood of an incident like the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy last winter.

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Federal job furloughs are scheduled for 1,692 civilian employees in West Virginia working in agencies under the U. S. Department of Defense this summer as part of an 11-week furlough program. These employees will lose about $5.6 million in income as a result of this decision.

Technicians with the West Virginia Air National Guard and Army National Guard -- a total of 946 members of the Guard's nearly 2,500-member state workforce -- account for more than half the state residents that will be taking these furloughs. It's all caused by the $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts approved by Congress.

Nationwide, the U. S. Department of Defense will begin furloughs for 652,000 of its 893,000 civilian employees on July 8. These workers will each be furloughed for a total of 11 days between July and September, averaging about one day a week for most of those involved.

The relatively small number of West Virginia civilian workers involved includes 186 workers at the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston; 384 with the 67th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg; and 376 Army National Guard members working at locations across the state.

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It's been a rough year for West Virginia's wonderful state parks system. Last June, many of the 36 state-operated parks suffered severe damage from a system of severe windstorms identified as a "derecho." Kenneth Caplanger, chief of the Division of Natural Resources, told a Charleston newspaper recently that the incident caused $1.3 million in direct and indirect losses. Business was just getting back to normal when Superstorm Sandy came through last October.

That storm caused damage to six state parks and one wildlife management area. But now much of the debris has been removed and repairs have been made. The popular boardwalk at Blackwater Falls, which was closed to the public because of tree damage, has now been repaired and is open for business again. Hawks Nest State Park was hit hard by both storms but had recovered in time to enjoy a booming business during the recent Memorial Day weekend.

Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.

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