Liz McCormick Published

School Safety Tops Agenda For State School Board

Young student, backpack, parent, back to school

This summer began with a dark cloud hanging over the country, as the United States reeled from yet another devastating school shooting. This time, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

For many state education departments throughout the country, the incident renewed conversations about school preparedness in the face of a crisis.

That has certainly been true in West Virginia.

With the fall 2022 school year just around the corner, school safety and preparedness were top of mind at the July West Virginia Board of Education meeting last week.

Emergency Preparedness

Board members received an update from the state department of education’s Jonah Adkins, who spoke on behalf of Rob Cunningham, Deputy Secretary for the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security.

“Mr. Cunningham made this statement when we presented to the legislature a couple of weeks ago: that school safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Adkins said.

The West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security have had regular meetings throughout the summer since the horrific school shooting in Uvalde in May.

The agencies are exploring ways to better collaborate and ensure everyone is prepared in the event of an active shooter or other emergency at schools.

Adkins reiterated to the board the importance of “one caring adult,” which is an initiative set by the West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch. It builds off the idea that as long as a child knows that at least one adult at school cares for them, they will do well in school, both emotionally and academically.

“We have to ensure that children have the services and the support that they need to deal with any emotional, social and emotional issues they may have, or any mental health issues that they may be facing,” Adkins said. “We have to make sure that those students have those appropriate supports. It takes people speaking up. It goes back to that saying, ‘if you see something, say something.’ Everyone has a part, everyone has a role in ensuring that our students are safe.”

Adkins told the board that Cunningham wants to implement a new app where students can report concerning behavior at school via text message. Adkins said the one they are considering would interface with existing apps that many West Virginia schools use to report bullying.

He also said the Office of Student Support and Well-Being in September will provide threat assessment training for school administrators, counselors, social workers and psychologists.

“We look forward to ongoing collaboration between [the department of education], department of homeland security, School Building Authority, the Fusion Center, and the West Virginia State Police,” Adkins told told board members. “I really believe that we’re working more collaboratively. We’re seeing positive results come of these meetings.”

State police also explained that some of the training offerings will not only be made available to school personnel and emergency responders, but also to members of the community, according to the WVDE.

“We have to address school safety from many angles,” said State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch in a news release. “From creating safe and supportive school environments and being able to quickly recognize problem areas, to the role of our emergency response partners to protect public safety, we all have a part to play. Partners have plans in place that will also assist communities in understanding their roles in protecting schools. I believe by keeping this issue in front of us, we will be able to better protect our students.”

Paul Hardesty Named New Board Of Ed President

Also at the July meeting, former state senator and longtime public servant Paul Hardesty was elected unanimously as the new president of the West Virginia Board of Education.

Hardesty replaces former President Miller Hall who served as president since 2017.

Hardesty was first appointed to the state board as a member in Dec. 2021. Previously, he served on the Logan County Board of Education and was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to an unexpired term in the West Virginia Senate.

Hardesty also held the positions of director of the Office Coalfield Development and legislative liaison for Gov. Bob Wise. He served as the director of the Public Energy Authority and was a member of the legislative staff for Gov. Joe Manchin.

Hardesty is a resident of Logan County.

“I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve the great state of West Virginia and the children of our public school system,” said Hardesty in a news release. “We have many important issues in front of us, and we will work tirelessly to ensure our children are prepared for the opportunities available to them. I will start, day-one, to try and build back damaged relationships around the Capitol Complex, because, at the end of the day, we all want better educational opportunities.”

President Hardesty’s complete bio is on the WVDE’s website.