WHEELING - A new, national direction focused on school safety is at the top of the agenda after the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Over the past several months, local schools have been reviewing emergency plans and finding new ways to keep students safe in school.
Dirk Fitch, superintendent of Martins Ferry City School District, said school administrators have been meeting with emergency personnel to review safety plans after attending a shooting response training in Columbus in January. He said the first responders, including the EMS and Martins Ferry Police Department, will be meeting at Martins Ferry Schools, St. Mary Central School and Martins Ferry Christian School to become more familiar with the layouts of those buildings in case of an emergency situation.
Pictured is Sgt. Don Miller, prevention resource officer, on duty at Bridge Street Middle School. Miller said the presence of a police cruiser outside of a school can prevent crime or misbehavior on school grounds.
"We have open lines of communication and continue to have discussions not only about training, but what to do in case a situation arises," Fitch said.
Fitch said Martins Ferry also will add 10 more security cameras to the campus in addition to the current 40. He said the current cameras mostly face outside doors, and the new cameras will monitor hallways and the parking lot.
He said eight of their buses have security cameras, and the district will outfit four more with cameras through the River School Initiative Grant.
Sgt. Don Miller, resource officer for Bridge Street Middle School, said Ohio County Schools are "light years" ahead of most counties in the Mountain State when it comes to school safety measures.
"Ohio County is well ahead of the curve. We're lucky to have five prevention resource officers in the county alone. We're one of the few counties in the state of West Virginia that has more than one or two prevention resource officers in the schools."
Miller said Ohio County constantly reviews and updates emergency procedures and frequently comes up with additional measures to enhance safety. Emergency lockdown procedures also are tailored to each school building layout in the county, so no two plans are exactly the same.
The simple presence of a police cruiser and officer at a school does much to prevent crime as well, Miller said. Wheeling police have been coming into schools more often and becoming familiar with the layouts, especially elementary schools where they currently do not have full-time resource officers.
Transportation safety is another concern for Ohio County Schools, according to Miller. He said resource officers are always present at school bus loading times monitoring the school zone to make sure vehicles are not speeding while kids come on or off the bus.
Ohio County's transportation department will be installing improved digital bus radios that are connected to a state-wide VHF (very high frequency) trunking system used by county fire and police departments. The radio will connect the buses, the transportation department and the Wheeling Police dispatch and eliminate former radio "dead spots" in the county where service did not reach.
Even with the measures in place, school safety remains a concern, something Shadyside parents learned about earlier this month when a suspicious man in camouflage clothing, wearing a ski mask and carrying a bow and arrow, was spotted outside Jefferson Elementary School.
Officials locked down the school, and police arrested the man later at his home.