U.S. Attorney's Office For The Southern District Of W.va. Hosts Statewide School Safety Summit
Summit brings together educators, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and community members; seeks practical, local steps against school violence
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - United States Attorney Booth Goodwin today announced that more than 400 participants from a wide range of professions and government agencies participated in yesterday’s Summit on West Virginia Safe Schools. Goodwin convened the daylong summit to develop practical steps to prevent and prepare for school violence. The summit was held at the state’s Culture Center in Charleston.
"Getting people from all sides of the problem into the same room to discuss solutions is the essential first step toward making our schools safer,” said Goodwin. “Yesterday we brought together law enforcement officials, educators, parents, mental health professionals, and students to exchange ideas and help forge the kind of lasting partnerships that produce real results. We have a tough challenge ahead of us, but the work we did, and the work we’re going to keep on doing, holds lifesaving promise.”
West Virginia native and current Sandy Hook, Connecticut resident Lisa Petrovich sat down with U.S. Attorney Goodwin for a one-on-one conversation about the Sandy Hook tragedy. She offered her personal recollections of several school administrators and teachers who were killed during the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, where Petrovich was once president of the Parent Teacher Association. Petrovich told attendees that she hopes Americans do not forget Sandy Hook. “Something positive has to happen out of this tragedy,” she said.
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. James B. Phares, in remarks welcoming summit participants, reiterated the summit’s core message: solutions to school violence must involve more than just the education community and will require cooperation among a wide range of professions and public officials.
The summit’s featured guest speaker was internationally recognized scholar and author Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (ret.). “Children are more likely to die by school violence than every other possible cause of death in schools combined,” Lt. Col. Grossman told the audience. Grossman called for more to be done to protect against school violence. He compared school violence to fatal school fires, which once were commonplace but have been largely eliminated through the universal adoption of fire alarms, fire hydrants and extinguishers, and fire-resistant building materials.
Lt. Col. Grossman is an expert on the causes of mass shootings and school violence, as well as a former West Point psychology professor and U.S. Army Ranger.
The summit also featured three panel discussions on school violence. The first of these panels concentrated on how to plan for major incidents of school violence and how to respond if they occur. Panel participants included Maj. Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard; Mark Manchin, Executive Director of the West Virginia School Building Authority; David Hoge, Director of the West Virginia Homeland Security State Administrative Agency; Captain David Lee, Commandant of the West Virginia State Police Academy; and Cabell County Schools Safety Manager Tim Stewart.
The second panel, moderated by Steve Ruby, Counsel to United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, discussed ways to prevent violent attacks from happening in the first place. Panel participants included South Charleston, W.Va. psychologist George Damous; Don Chapman, assistant director of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Healthy Schools; Deputy Scott Jefferson, Wood County Sheriff’s Deputy and Williamstown High School Prevention Resource Officer; Jackie Payne, Director of the West Virginia Division of Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health; and Dr. Christine Schimmel, an assistant professor in the counseling department at West Virginia University’s College of Education and Human Services.
The final panel, led by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, highlighted the perspectives of individuals on the front lines in our schools: principals, teachers, school staff, and students. Panelists were Dr. Jerry Lake, Cabell County Schools; teachers Cari Pauley (Lincoln County Schools) and Susan Brossman (Ohio County Schools); Ashley Donohew, a student at Ripley High School and a U.S. Attorney’s Ambassador for Justice; and Eugenie Taylor, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Overbrook Elementary School in Kanawha County.
The Summit on West Virginia Safe Schools was co-sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services. The summit was also held in partnership with the West Virginia State Police, the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Center for Professional Development, the West Virginia School Building Authority, and Cabell County Schools.
Officials participating in yesterday’s summit will be compiling a written set of school safety recommendations. Summit officials plan to release the recommendations in the near future. Information will be made available at: www.wvsafeschools.org.