CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The new chief state school safety officer in West Virginia told members of the state Board of Education Wednesday he’s determined to increase communication between law enforcement and school officials as the new school year gets underway.
Danny Chapman was introduced to the board during their monthly meeting in Charleston.
“That’s our main objective for the first few weeks of school was to get out there, communicate, make sure that everybody knows we are here, we are an asset that you guys can call upon at any time,” he said.
Chapman has been working with state Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Rob Cunningham to enhance the state’s new school safety initiative implemented earlier this year by Gov. Jim Justice. The program is meant to increase security at all 55 county school districts.
“When the superintendents get a call in the middle of the night with something going on at the school, or the school principal, they don’t have to sit there and take all that on themselves. They have us that they can reach out to,” he said.
Chapman replaces Ron Arthur. He said his goals as the new top safety officer is to make sure all school staff and faculty know their roles in the event of possible shooting or other dangerous threats.
“Without that PRO or SRO there, the response times are 20-30 minutes. Most school incidents happen between 10-15 minutes and it’s over. When you talk to the school nurses, within that 10-15 minutes, they’re going to have to win that battle for us because it’s going to take a while for first responders to get there,” he said.
That’s why Chapman is asking school administrators, teachers, students and their families to give them a call as soon as they hear or see something suspicious. He’s also relying on other agencies to step up given West Virginia’s topography.
“We have to look hard at prevention in this state because we’re so rural. Some schools are out there so far that the response to get to some of these schools are longer than most incidences happen, so we really have to lean on emergency management, on the FBI because we need a head start,” he said.
State lawmakers passed a bill to create a School Safety Unit within the state Division of Protective Services earlier this year. Chapman said he’d like to push for updated security equipment within that unit.
“What I would like to see with this unit is for us to have some of our own security equipment so when we do have an issue in a rural county from the superintendent to the principal, they can say ‘hey can you guys come and help us for a day?’” he said.
Jonah Adkins, director of PK-12 Academic Support with the state Department of Education, ended the school safety update by telling the board West Virginia’s program is already setting an example for other states.
“The state of New York actually reached out the other day to Mr. Cunningham I believe to get some information. They want to replicate what we’re doing with our school safety officer program which I think is a good thing,” Adkins said.