West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Herald-Dispatch on fighting drug addiction:
Reducing horrific events down to one- or two-word phrases can either minimize the impact of those events or serve to remind us of how far we need to go to recover and ensure they never happen again. 9/11 was one of those events that united Americans on a national scale. Locally, the phrase “quadruple homicide” serves the same purpose.
It sounds like a sterile phrase that hides the terrible thing that happened the night of May 22, 2005, but for those of us who were here and remember it, it remains a call to action.
Four young people lost their lives in the worst crime in Huntington in recent memory, if not the worst ever in the city: Donte Ward, 19, of Huntington; Michael Dillon, 17, a Huntington High School junior; Megan Poston, 16, a Cabell Midland High School junior; and Eddrick Clark, 18, of South Point, Ohio, a senior at South Point High School. All four were shot at 1410 Charleston Ave., just off Hal Greer Boulevard and close to the open-air drug market in the Artisan Avenue area.
Their deaths came about 13 months after Karen Stultz, 39, of Catlettsburg, Ky., was shot and killed near Charleston Avenue over a $40 debt for crack cocaine.
Back in 2005, the common belief in the Tri-State was that the problem with illegal drugs was largely confined to the Fairfield West neighborhood, where crack and other substances were sold and where dealers from Detroit had their base of operations. The events of May 22, 2005, proved otherwise.
In the past 14 years, the drug situation has changed. If crack is still a problem, it’s been pushed down the priority list by other substances that have become more widespread. After crack came meth and prescription painkillers. As legislation and law enforcement crack down on one drug, another moves in to take its place. Heroin and fentanyl dominate the conversation now, but meth is said to be making a comeback.
As the illegal drugs of choice have changed, so have the community’s attitudes and determination to do something. More people see addiction as a common problem that affects all races and classes. More treatment centers are available to help people who realize they need help, and drug courts strive to push people toward treatment instead of incarceration.
The producers and distributors of legal drugs are being challenged in court for not doing their parts in preventing the flow of massive amounts of drugs into towns that obviously did not need the quantities that were ordered.
And yet people still feel the need to use drugs they know are both illegal and harmful. A couple of years ago, Huntington was the center of national attention in the fight against illegal drug use. The cameras have moved on, which is good, because that means we’ve made enough progress that journalists and others can look elsewhere.
The need for constant vigilance remains. Some parents check the playground at the park for needles before they let their children play. They’re always on the lookout for needles in public restrooms, too.
The event that came to be known as the quadruple homicide was the low point in Huntington’s war on illegal drugs. The fact that one victim was from Ohio and an earlier victim was from Kentucky showed it was and is a Tri-State problem.
This is no time to let up in the community’s fight against addiction. Actually, no time is.
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on mental health challenges:
Public schools are supposed to focus on teaching children, not filling gaps in nutrition, health care and mental wellness services. Yet in part because those lapses become evident in classrooms — and affect students’ abilities to learn — educators have had to do something about them.
Emotional and behavioral challenges among children in West Virginia have increased, in large measure because of the drug abuse crisis. Older youngsters may be victims of it directly. Younger ones often are collateral damage because of parents’ substance addictions. A substantial portion of the state Supreme Court’s caseload involves children removed from homes for their own safety.
Compassion for Mountain State children ought to be enough to prompt us to provide more help for those dealing with mental challenges. Now, however, we have another reason to act: a mandate from the federal government.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded our state government was violating the civil rights of children with special emotional and behavioral needs. In a nutshell, the federal complaint is that our state institutionalizes too many children, sometimes out of state and far from their families.
Last week, it was revealed the state has entered into an agreement with the DOJ to resolve the problem. It amounts to a pledge by state government that West Virginia will do more to ensure children are provided mental health services in their communities and, if possible, while living at home.
Coincidentally, state legislators are considering a wide-ranging package of what they hope will be improvements to public schools. One suggestion has been to provide more counselors and psychologists in schools.
Doing so could be a key in compliance with the DOJ settlement agreement.
It is tempting to suggest more in-school mental health services would be killing two birds with one stone, because it could help placate federal officials while helping teachers do their jobs better. That would be misleading: This is not a challenge to be “killed” easily or quickly.
Suffice it to say some West Virginia children need help that can be given to them in their schools. That alone ought to be enough to prompt legislators to provide it — and taxpayers to pay the bill with no complaints.
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register on education legislation:
Republicans in the West Virginia state Senate ignored the advice about putting all one’s eggs in a single basket last winter. They packaged a variety of public school bills into one “omnibus education bill” — and it failed to pass. As a result, a variety of improvements on which there was wide, bipartisan agreement were not enacted.
Reportedly, Senate leaders are considering the same strategy for a special session on education. Their catch-all bill would be labeled the “Student Success Act.”
Better approaches are being suggested by both House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and some Democrat lawmakers.
Because of the failure earlier this year, legislators will go into a special session, probably in June, to try again on public school improvements.
On Tuesday, emphasizing that delegates will consider whatever bills are sent to them by the Senate, Hanshaw said his chamber will try a different method. Instead of a single bill, the House will see dozens of proposals, he explained. And, he added, he has established four special committees to consider the bills. Normal procedure would have been to route them through the House Education Committee, but the four-panel plan should speed things along.
Also this week, Democrats in the Legislature proposed their own set of bills involving schools. They, too, have decided not to bundle everything in a single package.
That makes sense. Once lawmakers return to Charleston for the education session, there will be disagreements about some proposals. Charter schools and education savings accounts are among controversial issues. They were the primary reason the omnibus bill died last winter.
Acrimony over some school-related proposals should not be allowed to scuttle others on which most lawmakers seem to agree. Hanshaw is correct to foresee a knock-down, drag-out fight over some issues, and also to do what he can to keep that from holding up other types of improvements.