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Trooper offers tips on dealing with school violence

September 29, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Teachers, principals and other school staff need to remember they're not police officers when it comes to students with weapons, a West Virginia State Police trooper told school administrators Tuesday.

Confronting a student you suspect has a weapon can be lethal, warned Senior Trooper R.T. Dyroff, who suggested alerting state police and using a ruse to get the student to the office until police arrive.

Dyroff, from the West Virginia State Police barracks at Martinsburg, was one of several speakers at the West Virginia Department of Education's day-long Fall Principals' Seminar at the Comfort Inn in Martinsburg.

Other local speakers included Musselman High School student Aaryn Kopp, West Virginia Fire Marshal Ed Robinson and West Virginia Board of Education member Sheila M. Hamilton, who lives in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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The seminar drew several dozen administrators - most of them principals - from high, middle and elementary schools in Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan, Grant and Hardy counties, said Therese Wilson of the West Virginia Department of Education.

The seminar focused on school safety because it's a pressing issue nationally and in the state, Wilson said.

"A school's purpose is to educate students, but you can't educate students unless you have a safe environment," she said.

The seminar will be presented today for a second group of school administrators in Martinsburg, she said.

Dyroff focused on a relatively new West Virginia State Police project covering weapons and other school safety issues called "Detecting and Dealing with Firearms in Schools."

School employees need to train their eyes and ears to better detect gang, drug and weapon activity in schools, said Dyroff, who distributed a handout featuring gang symbols and slang used for weapons, drugs and gang activity.

Baggy clothing provides an easy hiding place for firearms, Dyroff said.

School employees also need to watch for bulging areas in clothes "where they shouldn't be," like the small of the back, a typical hiding place for guns, he said.

Although school officials are governed by a lesser standard than police - reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause - to conduct a search, they shouldn't try to search a student suspected of having a weapon, Dyroff said.

"You don't want to give a student contemplating something an ultimatum by drawing attention to it," he said.

For example, if a teacher suspects a student in class has a weapon, he or she should get a message to the principal to call police and, if possible, figure out a way to get the student to the office without arousing suspicion, Dyroff said.

The teacher would want to relay as much information as possible about the student, including a name, detailed description of looks and clothing, location in class, and description and location of the weapon, he said.

If a weapon is displayed or shots fired, the rules change, said Dyroff, who offered state police recommendations for handling such "high-level threats."

Personal judgment comes into play in a crisis situation, he said.

"There are no rules in this. Whatever you think is the safest route, that's the route to take," Dyroff said.

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