National and local events have sparked an increased interest in school safety, and the first school safety forum at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School gave the community a chance to learn of the procedures and protocols in place at county schools.
"Obviously school safety is not just a local issue; it's a state issue and it's a national issue," Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lampinen said. "In the course of events over the last few years, it's on everybody's mind. We in Upshur County Schools take school safety, the health, the security and the safety of our students as our No. 1 priority."
The evacuation of Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School on April 19 because of a perceived bomb threat was a prime example of what preparation through procedures and drills can accomplish. Lampinen said the entire school was evacuated and students were in school buses in only five minutes. More than 800 students and 100 staff members were evacuated in a timely manner, Lampinen said.
"The students were fantastic. The staff was fantastic," Lampinen said. "My compliments to the staff, but most of the compliments to the students."
Jeffrey Harvey, the owner of JH Consulting LLC in Buckhannon and a consultant on the school safety committee, reviewed the history of school safety drills in Upshur County. He said the first concentrated school safety effort for Upshur County began in 2005. He said drills are a learning process. After each drill, he said there is a meeting to discuss what went well and what needs improvement.
"We feel like we've made a lot of progress. We recognize we still have a lot of progress to go. We're going to keep working toward that," Harvey said. "We want to engage our community in that, find out what feedback they have to make sure we're meeting the needs of Upshur County students."
Many agencies have roles in the school safety procedures, including the Buckhannon Fire Department, the Buckhannon Police Department, the Upshur County Emergency Medical Services, the Upshur County Office of Emergency Management and the Upshur County Sheriff's Office. In 2009, a Prevention Resource Officer program was started in Upshur County.
"Obviously, in today's times, there is a need to have an armed police officer in the schools," B-UMS Prevention Resource Officer C.J. Day said. "History shows there has never been a school shooting where there was an armed police officer in the school."
School safety is not just about physically keeping students safe. Lampinen said students need to feel safe as well.
"We want to build a culture in our schools that our kids and their families feel safe to come into the schools," Lampinen said. "In their mental capacities, in their mind, they have to feel safe there, too."
Although the forum on Thursday was designed to provide a presentation of safety in county schools and to address community questions, concerns and ideas, no community members spoke up. However, Harvey said there are ways to keep informed through updates provided on the Upshur County Board of Education website, www.UpshurCountySchools.com. The safety forum will become an annual community event for Upshur County.