School forum not about gun control
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A school safety forum planned for next week won't focus on gun control, and the keynote speaker doesn't favor arming teachers, said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.
Instead, the event Goodwin's office and others organized is intended to help educators and law enforcement come up with practical ways to make schools safer.
"What we're trying to do is engage law enforcement and education leaders," Goodwin said Thursday. "Talk about what has been done, what's being done and what could be done to make schools safer in the Mountain State."
Earlier this month, Goodwin's office announced it was coordinating a free-of-charge summit for Feb. 6 at the Culture Center to address school safety. Within days of announcing the event, Goodwin said every available seat was taken.
"We have 410 people signed up, but we've got a total of 545 who want to attend," Goodwin said. "We're trying to make accommodations for that, but the outpouring of interest in this topic obviously has been overwhelming."
The all-day affair features Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a retired U.S. Army Ranger and former professor at the U.S. Military Academy, whose book "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society," was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Although Grossman is quoted in an article on his website - killology.com - saying, "Even one or two armed teachers in a school can make a difference," Goodwin said Grossman is not an advocate for arming teachers. The article states Grossman thinks teachers that have military training could be a starting point, but overall "you have to push this envelope very gently."
Goodwin said arming teachers is "not something we're going to get into at the summit."
He does think Grossman's ideas about violent video games and their affects on children will come up during the event.
Grossman is a staunch believer that violent video games, movies and media in general indoctrinate children to become more accepting of violence. In a January interview with conservative media personality Glenn Beck, Grossman said video games train children to associate reward and pleasure with killing.
There could be a connection between school shootings and violent video games, and it's something that should come up at the forum, Goodwin said.
"It's very likely no coincidence that a number of these school shooters have been very heavily engaged in violent video games," Goodwin said. "What do we do about that? What discussion do we need to have about that?"
Grossman is scheduled to talk from 9:30 a.m. until noon. The afternoon is allotted to three panel discussions. The first focuses on preparing and responding to emergencies from both a school and law enforcement perspective.
It features Maj. Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard, State Building Authority Executive Director Mark Manchin and other state officials. The speakers will discuss building safety, how law enforcement responses have changed since the Columbine High School massacre and drill procedures.
The second panel focuses on prevention. It features psychologists and officials from several state agencies that deal with child behavior.
"(The focus is) identifying risks at schools, in particular individuals who display violent tendencies and how do you identify those folks, how do you intervene appropriately to make sure that those risks are minimized?" Goodwin said.
Prevention Resource Officer Scott Jefferson of the Wood County Sheriff's Department is a member of the panel. Goodwin thought the idea of funding more prevention resource officers - law enforcement officials who are stationed full-time at a school - could come out of the forum.
Discussions about police dropping in to interact with students could help foster more positive relationships between law enforcement and students as well, he said.
Finally, teachers and students will discuss their perspectives "from the front lines," Goodwin said. They can provide ideas law enforcement officials might not consider, including how safety measures can affect day-to-day operations in the school.
A lot has been done to make schools safe in the state, Goodwin said. But after acts of school violence across the country - culminating in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School - Goodwin said everyone needs to understand the potential for such a threat locally.
He's invited Lisa Petrovich, a Weirton native who has lived in Sandy Hook, Conn, for the last 18 years, to speak about the impact a school shooting tragedy can have on a community.
He also cited an incident last year in Ravenswood, where students told police about another student who mentioned having a hit list and a gun. The student was arrested and said he was driven to think about the act because he couldn't stand being bullied any more.
"I don't know what got that young man to that place, but if that student hadn't stepped forward and told the prevention resource officer about that encounter that he had, then it could have resulted in a horrible tragedy," Goodwin said. "Not only for the people on the hit list, but for the kid who thought that was the only thing that they could do to make it stop."
For the last 18 months Goodwin has visited schools to discuss the damaging effects of bullying. He said he thinks his role as a prosecuting attorney is to focus just as much on preventing crime as reacting to it.
He thinks there is a direct connection between bullying at schools and people ending up in a courtroom.
He also said his office is going to ramp up its prosecution of gun-related crimes.
"In my day job, that's something that we're going to be focusing on more," Goodwin said.
"We've always prosecuted crimes where people who shouldn't have them are possessing them: felons in possession, drug users in possession, people who have been identified as mentally defective in possession of a firearm. We've always prosecuted those crimes. We are going to step up our efforts in that regard as well," he said.
Goodwin and his office will put together a report on the event findings. He said that could take some time, but he hopes it works as a guide for local, practical solutions that school systems and law enforcement can carry out without policy changes.
Televisions will be in the lobby of the Culture Center to stream the event for those who can't get a seat. Although Goodwin doubts they can stream the event online, the videos will eventually be posted to YouTube.
Box lunches will be served to those in attendance, he said. Goodwin said he didn't think the cost for the event would exceed $25,000. It is being funded mostly by the Division of Justice and Community Service.
More information is available at wvsafeschools.org.