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School violence hot line funded, will open Aug. 23

August 16, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A new school safety hot line will open statewide in West Virginia next week.

The toll-free number was announced Monday in Charleston, W.Va. by state Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. and U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va.

The number, 1-888-200-5360, will be operational Aug. 23 and will allow parents, students and school personnel to report suspicious behavior that could lead to school violence.

Two members of the Attorney General's Office Consumer Protection Division will staff the hot line and will refer tips to police agencies and school superintendents around West Virginia, Wise spokesman Steve Cohen said.

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The line is expected to cost between $50,000 and $75,000 a year and will be funded out of McGraw's budget, Cohen said.

The statewide hot line joins local school safety hot lines in place in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

Concerns about school safety have been a continuing issue across the nation since the April 20 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

The shootings spawned bomb threats at schools across the country, including several in the Eastern Panhandle.

The new hot line is a scaled-down version of a plan Wise wanted to have in place before the new school year begins in West Virginia, Cohen said.

"This is a starting point," Cohen said.

Wise had proposed a $400,000 statewide phone line to be staffed by counselors and specialists trained to deal with school violence, Cohen said.

Federal money for that plan is tied in with juvenile justice legislation that has not cleared Congress, Cohen said.

While the hot line is not as extensive as Wise had planned, Cohen said it was important to provide some kind of hot line in the state.

"This provides every West Virginia student the opportunity to report their suspicions of potential violence," he said.

The Attorney General's office plans to publicize the line through posters, magnets and brochures it will distribute to the state's schools.

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