School safety has been an issue for years, especially for Pocahontas County High School due to its location and distance from emergency and police services.
In 2011, then principal Tom Sanders requested to have a deputy from the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department as a PRO officer in the school. An agreement was made with the sheriff’s office and a deputy was used in the school when available, but as he remained on duty with the sheriff’s office he could not be at the school full-time.
In reviewing the earlier program and the current need to have an officer at the high school, superintendent Terrence Beam said he is hoping to once again have a PRO officer, but this time, the officer would be a full-time employee of the board of education.
“This person would be an employee of the school board,” he said. “They would be permitted to search lockers if we felt like there was a weapon on the property or drugs on the property; anything like that. They would have the same authority a principal has to search a locker, if there is just cause.”
While the officer will have the authority to search and confiscate illegal paraphernalia, they do not have the authority to issue citations or arrest anyone. The role of the PRO officer will be focused more on the safety of the students and staff.
“One of the questions asked was, are we creating a police state,” Beam said. “That’s not our intent. Our intent is to try to protect our students. We’ve been talking about a PRO officer for several years. We had one seven or eight years ago that worked with the Sheriff’s Department, but every time we had an issue – a fight or a threat – the PRO officer might not be there because they work for the Sheriff’s Department and they would be called out for other duties, which we understood.
“That’s why we’re trying to find our own retired police officer that can dedicate a hundred percent of the school day to the school,” he added.
Beam said he has received comments and concerns about funding of the position and said that at this time, there are monies in the budget that will fund the position for a couple of years, but eventually, the board would have to find a way to continue funding the position.
The PRO officer position was posted for applications, but Beam took it down temporarily because there may be a source of funding coming through the West Virginia Legislature.
“The Legislative session ends this Saturday and there was some legislation up for approval for some potential funding, so we want to wait and see what the guidelines will be – how you have to use that money – and, hopefully, then we wouldn’t have to use county money to fund it,” he said.
The position will be reposted once the Legislative session is over and the funding options are more clear.
Beam said that he has discussed the issue of waiting to post the position until there is certainty about funding, but he said the need for an officer outweighs his concerns about the funding.
“If the position is beneficial to our students, we have to consider how to fund it in the future, but we need to address our students needs now, if we can,” he said. “That’s the way I see that.”