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Many Kanawha County classrooms lack door locks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Board of Education President Pete Thaw had hoped that all of the county's teachers would be able to lock their doors from inside the classroom by the time students returned from Christmas break.

But that's not going to happen.

In more than 30 of the county's schools, teachers have to open their classroom door and lock it from the outside in order to secure their classrooms, according to the Kanawha County Schools maintenance department.

Maintenance Director Terry Hollandsworth said that, next week, 11 more schools will have the appropriate locking devices installed, but locks for 20-some schools have yet to be purchased.

"We've been installing these for a while now. As grant money comes in, we buy the locks and install them as soon as we can," he said. "For the schools whose locks have not been purchased yet, they can still lock their doors from the hallway and leave it locked.

"It's not like teachers have no way of securing their classrooms," he said. "That way, anyone that comes up will have to knock if they want in."

Hollandsworth said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has been "very supportive" in providing grant money for such safety precautions, and school administrators have moved safety to the forefront since the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Every Kanawha County school building has a card-access entrance installed that allows school employees to enter by swiping their badge and requires other visitors to buzz in to the front office in order to enter the building, Hollandsworth said.

In addition, Kanawha County schools now have machines to scan visitors' driver's licenses to check their criminal background. Schools can even check visitors' IDs before they enter the building, Hollandsworth said.

"We've always kept security of our buildings a high priority," he said, "and will continue to do so well into the future."

Thaw said installing the locks on classroom doors is a "no-brainer" and should be at the top of the county's "to-do list."

"Before the children go back to school, this has to be fixed. We're not going to let this go. Only a fool would wait to fix this in the environment we're in now," Thaw said. "When people are talking about putting armed guards in schools, you better at least lock them up first."

The maintenance department submitted a plan for the lock installations last week that is awaiting Superintendent Ron Duerring's approval, Hollandsworth said Friday.

Thaw said most of the schools have locks already, but officials are re-evaluating other aspects of the county's safety plan.

"We have as good of a system as Connecticut had, which tells you something," Thaw said. "If demented people are intent on something, they're going to do it."

Bev Jarrett, director of safety and security for Kanawha County Schools, is revisiting safety measures and working to make sure that every school has a consistent crisis response plan.

Kanawha school board member Bill Raglin said he understands concerns about the locks on classroom doors, but that, for the most part, Kanawha County schools are secure.

"We've been continually trying to tie up the loose ends, and we need to correct it, but I don't know if it's as big of an issue as one might think," Raglin said. "Any time an incident happens of the magnitude as in Connecticut, it makes everybody become a little bit more concerned about what they have.

"It's definitely raised some eyebrows, but you want to do everything you can do, short of having an armed fortress."

Raglin did not know of any set deadline for the locks to be installed but he believes that by the end of the holiday break is not a feasible goal.

At the most recent school board meeting, Duerring urged Hollandsworth to expedite the process and said that, in the meantime, there's no reason why classrooms should ever be unlocked.

"I'm reluctant to say we should always keep the doors locked, because there's always going to be some sort of an exception," Raglin said. "If a teacher steps out into the hallway and has a clear view of the class, should they really lock it?"

Board member Becky Jordon acknowledged that the lock installations have been put on the backburner for other necessary projects -- such as replacing many schools' outdated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Jordon said the school system has always addressed safety issues on a regular basis and secure buildings have been a priority since Duerring's been superintendent. There's only so much you can do, she said.

"It never hurts to try to address some issues, that's for sure," she said, "but I just think, when a crazy person wants in a school, they're going to get in."

Teachers should keep their doors locked at all times -- especially in schools where access to common areas is simple, Jordon said.

"At George Washington, you're in the cafeteria before you even see anyone else. At John Adams, you can go straight into the gym before you see the main office," she said. "And those aren't the only schools that are laid out weird like that, so it doesn't hurt to keep your doors shut."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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