RIPLEY, W.Va. — As the 2023 school year gets underway in Jackson County, Sheriff Ross Mellinger highlighted improvements made in the county schools’ Shield Program. The program was started in conjunction with Mellinger and the county school system after an incident involving a gun in Jackson County schools in recent years.
Mellinger said the idea is to create an atmosphere of trust and partnership between all county sheriff’s deputies and each person associated with the county schools.
“It’s a partnership with us and the board of education to introduce deputies in all of the schools on a part time basis. They can make spontaneous school visits, walk the halls, walk into classrooms and interact with the students and staff,” said the Sheriff.
The idea is to make law enforcement visits so random in all Jackson County schools a prospective shooter would be given pause to make plans for an incident. The program has added new layers for this school year.
Starting in fall 2023, all volunteers must get a background check if they are going to be active in the school system. It’s never been required previously, but it now will be requirement for anyone wanting to contribute.
Mellinger said they have also added a coordinator for the Shield Program who can make evaluations of its impact in each school individually. No two schools are alike and no two active shooter responses should be the same.
Finally, Mellinger said they have successfully added audible alarms to the schools to alert students, faculty, and staff of an active shooter.
“Much like a fire alarm drill, this is a separate, audible alarm system set up in each school to where if there’s an active shooter, you can simply trip that alarm and it goes off with its own unique system and sound,” he explained.
The alarm sound is different from the fire alarm, but it’s the same in all schools. Therefore, if children transfer from one school to another the procedure is the same. Mellinger said it’s something they’ll be able to practice repeatedly and try to make schools as safe as possible.
“These kids can practice what to do when that thing goes off. You’ll have rallying points and exiting procedures to be practiced day in and day out, just like fire alarms, but this is separate for a school shooting situation,” he said.