Education Keyser High School

An aerial view of Keyser High School.

John A. Bone
Cumberland Times-News

KEYSER - At a cost to the county of a little less than $1 per student, the Safe School Hotline has been well worth the approximately $4,300 a year, according to Mineral County Superintendent of Schools Skip Hackworth.

The helpline, an anonymous hotline on which students, parents, or staff members may report concerns regarding the school system, has been used in Mineral County for approximately six years.

Two weeks ago, a tip left on the hotline led to the identification of a Keyser High School ninth-grader who had allegedly commented that there would be a possible shooting at Keyser High School the last day of school.

Upon investigation by school authorities, the Mineral County Sheriff's Department and West Virginia State Police, the student was removed from school, possibly averting a tragic ending to the school year.

Prosecuting Attorney Lynn Nelson said Monday he expects to formally charge the juvenile as soon as he receives the paperwork from the sheriff's department.

Hackworth said this last high-profile incident was atypical of the calls they routinely receive on the helpline.

"We get tips about someone who's selling drugs, either at school or at a bus stop," he said. "We've gotten calls like, 'I'm thinking about committing suicide,' or 'so-and-so is picking on me.'

"We usually get between eight and 12 calls a year."

According to Kelly Haines, assistant principal at Frankfort High School, the helpline has proved to be beneficial both at Frankfort High and at Frankfort Middle, where she formerly served as principal.

"In my years at Frankfort Middle School, we had several tips," she said. "In the three years that I've been here at Frankfort High, I can't think of more than two or three we've had."

None of the calls was as potentially critical as last week's incident at Keyser.

"They were all things we were able to handle, nothing really severe," she said.

No matter what the call, Haines said the helpline is vitally important to the county's schools.

"The main thing is, the kids feel they can use it, and they do," she said.

"And it helps us to be able to deal with things in advance."

Keyser High Principal John Haines agreed.

"Just this one situation last week proves the value of the helpline," he said. "With that one report, we were able to avert a potential disaster."

Hackworth said the helpline number is well-publicized so the students have ready access to the service.

"We send brochures about the service home with the kids in the fall, and we also have magnets and stickers to put on the phone," he said, adding that posters and banners are placed throughout the county's schools.

When a call comes in on the helpline, Hackworth is the first person to be notified. If it's a tip in need of immediate attention, the superintendent is notified on the spot - no matter what time of the day or night or where he might be.

"I've been called on the way to a WVU football game, and I've been called in the middle of the night," he said.

"The people who take the calls are trained in what's extremely important and what can wait until the next day."

Once a call is received, Hackworth or the principal of the involved school has three days to respond.

Since all callers are kept anonymous, each one is assigned a case number.

"The caller can then call back in three days and give the case number, and receive our response to their call," he said.

In the case of the Keyser High ninth-grader, Hackworth said his response would have been, "Please call me." He was ready to list his office, home and cell phone numbers so the caller could get in touch with him.

Before the end of the three-day response period, however, the caller - the parent of another KHS student - came forward in person to discuss the rumored threat.

The number for the Safe School Hotline is 1-800-418-6423.

Liz Beavers can be reached at lbeavers@times-news.com.

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