Local agencies crucial in protecting vulnerable students

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – During Gov. Jim Justice’s press briefing Wednesday, the Governor and other state health and school officials expressed concern about West Virginia’s most vulnerable students.

The September 8th start date remains, but school plans remain flexible, according to the Governor, depending on the latest coronavirus numbers.

So what happens if kids and teachers aren’t in the classroom? Specifically – what happens to the more vulnerable students?

“Schools provide a valuable resource in terms of those eyes on by teachers, in terms of those eyes on by teachers,” said Secretary Bill Crouch with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

Crouch says the number of abuse and neglect reports filed by teachers dropped significantly during the first months of the pandemic. Although the number of reports has since risen again, he says it still remains a major concern. Crouch said he would have more specific numbers sometime in the next week.

“Its been a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of prayers for the students we don’t have eyes on,” State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said.

During the press conference, Burch and Justice stressed the importance of the “One Caring Adult” Program. State health officials also stressed the importance of local agencies and organizations that are continuing to advocate for some of West Virginia’s most vulnerable students.

“For a lot of kids, school is the only safe place,” said Andrea Darr, director of West Virginia Center For Children’s Justice.

Darr is the director of the West Virginia Center For Children’s Justice. She’s been a crucial part of the Handle With Care program which requires law enforcement to alert school districts when they encounter a child at a crime scene.

“That notice all it says is ‘handle with care,'” Darr said. “No other details. It goes to essential school staff that are checking up on those kids.”

Darr says the initiative, launched on Charleston’s West Side back in 2013, is more important now than ever before as kids might not get the chance to interact with teachers in the classroom. So they’re working on resources available for people who might not recognize symptoms of abuse or neglect.

“If the teachers aren’t seeing the kids, who are? It’s the convenience store clerks, the pizza delivery guys, its the grocery store worker,” Darr said. “So we’ve created a really nice infographic for people that generally wouldn’t know what to do.”

Darr says a part of that initiative includes their yearly conference. This year they are doing it virtually hosting sessions once a week online.

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