Getting students back to school safely

Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 5:53 PM EDT
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Students across West Virginia will return to school for the first time in six months next Tuesday. While there are many guidelines in place to protect from COVID-19, officials are adding new precautions to ensure old problems don’t steal the spotlight.

“The last thing we want is for any child to be hurt, or worse yet, to be killed,” Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tom Williams said.

The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department will be expanding its Operation GPA program, aimed at keeping students safe and alive during proms, graduations and the first week of school, by patrolling in every school zone across the county.

“Most people go by them every day of the week, but we just want them to understand that school is coming back in,” Sheriff Mike Rutherford said. “There will be kids there, even though there will be some doing virtual training and so forth, but there will still be kids out there and we will make sure they are safe.”

Multiple law enforcement agencies from across the county, in addition to the Ambulance Authority, will work to alert drivers of the active school zones. Deputies will also walk through schools and interact with students to make sure they know protection is in place.

“I think that the kids have been really fearful about coming back to school,” Kanawha County Schools social worker Melissa Cottrell said. “I think seeing the police present and outside ready to see them, I think that gives them a little bit of security about coming back to school.”

Cottrell said teachers are planning activities to help students get used to face masks and spend the first few days of the school year getting back into the routine of learning in-person.

The Kanawha County Commission has doubled its funding commitment to the Operation GPA program, Commissioner Ben Salango said. That will allow Rutherford to increase the number of overtime hours deputies can spend and add patrols along bus routes to catch and ticket anyone who passes a school bus stopped with its red lights on.

“Especially if their kids are at home going through home schooling or virtual, people have a tendency to forget that kids are still in school and they are still kids out here,” Rutherford said.

The Sheriff’s Department will monitor how the first few days of school go and increase patrols as needed. Rutherford said they have the ability to triple or even quadruple the number of deputies in school zones to ensure everyone stays safe.

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