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Despite state law, dozens of public schools haven’t numbered windows to help emergency responders

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Despite state law, dozens of public schools haven’t numbered windows to help emergency responders

Dec 11, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely
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Despite state law, dozens of public schools haven’t numbered windows to help emergency responders
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West Virginia schools are required to post classroom numbers on exterior walls to help emergency responders locate rooms in case of emergency, but 90 schools still have not put the numbers up. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

West Virginia public schools are required to post numbers on the outside walls to help emergency responders swiftly get to students in a crisis, but four years after state lawmakers mandated the safety measure, 90 schools still haven’t posted the signage. 

“That number should be in single digits or nothing,” said Micah Whitlow, West Virginia Department of Education school facilities director. He presented a public school safety update to lawmakers on Sunday during December legislative meetings

Schools can have dozens of exterior doors and windows, and large, black numbers on white paper posted outside of buildings can help emergency workers find a door closest to kids in need. The numbers can also help students and staff move to door locations during an emergency.

In response to a nationwide rise in school shootings, many states have asked schools to place numerical signage on exterior windows and doors.  

West Virginia lawmakers in 2019 passed a School Safety Act, following the mass high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The bill mandated that public schools place room numbers on exterior walls of school buildings, “so rooms with exterior walls can be identified by law enforcement and first responders from the outside.” 

The bill went into effect the same year, yet dozens of schools have failed to meet the requirement. 

“Ninety schools can’t print off a piece of paper?” questioned Del. Christopher Toney, R-Raleigh.

A WVDE report did not specify which of the state’s 688 public and public charter schools needed to add the signage. 

The number has improved from last year when 135 schools still hadn’t put up the signs.

Whitlow said that the WVDE is working with schools to implement the signage requirement, and that the department has provided vinyl signage to schools.

“I think they’ve seen the sense of urgency we’ve put on them to get it done,” he said. 

Schools seek $173M for safety upgrades

State schools spent more than $19.6 million on safety and security measures during the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to the WVDE. 

Now, they’ve indicated that they’ll need more than $173 million for additional safety upgrades, including weapons detection systems and cameras, and school safety officers. 

A WSAZ report earlier this year showed that of nearly 700 schools in the state, more than 40% do not have safe school entries or mantraps.

The range of financial requests varies from county to county: Kanawha County requested more than $29 million for safety and security needs, while Marshall County requested more than $6 million and Lewis County requested $922,526.

The West Virginia Virtual Academy was the only of the state’s public charter schools to request safety funding, seeking $146,000. The school spent $25,000 during the 2022-23 school year on safety initiatives, including a wristband identification process and procedure during required in-person state testing.

Gov. Jim Justice, who launched a school safety initiative, will determine the WVDE’s budget before presenting it to the Legislature for a vote in the upcoming 2024 Regular Session

The session begins Jan. 10 at the State Capitol.