Bomb scare at post office shuts down Clarksburg
by James Fisher

    Federal officials at the Clarksburg Post Office this morning X-rayed an envelope and are waiting on bomb squad units to determine if the package, headed for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Criminal Justice Information Services Center, contains explosives.
    The manila envelope-sized package contained a 3- to 4-inch square that local police and fire officials say could contain explosives. "It has all the signatures of an explosive device," said Clarksburg Fire Department Capt. Joe Gonzalez, who was on the  scene at 500 W. Pike St. this morning. Federal marshals discovered the package around 10 a.m.
    Marshals would not say why they deemed the package suspicious, but took extra precaution because it was headed for the FBI fingerprint facility on the outskirts of town.
    By 10:30 a.m., police had roped off a two-block section of town and evacuated the area around the post office. Local bomb units were called to the scene this morning.
    Police then called federal bomb units from Pittsburgh and Charleston. The units were expected to arrive in Clarksburg by 12:30 p.m. Federal marshals X-rayed the package twice this morning.
    The Clarksburg Baptist Church pre-school center, as well Bartolo Funeral Home, flower shops and other businesses in the area were evacuated.

High-tech computer lab turns teachers into students again
by Gail Marsh

    Jan Frenzel, a Bridgeport Middle School computer teacher, has worked in the school system for the last 15 years and seen the progress that has been made in bringing technology to classrooms.
    "I started as a half-time technology teacher 15 years ago at West Milford Elementary School, and there was only one other half-time technology teacher back then. In the last few years, things have grown by leaps and bounds," she said.
    The push to bring technology into the schools began under former Gov. Gaston Caperton and has continued under Gov. Cecil Underwood. The Legislature has funded grants, and money from local sources has provided one computer for every three students in Harrison County.
    County elementary schools have computers to help students improve their basic skills in subjects such as reading and math. Students in middle and high schools learn word processing and can become skilled in working with spreadsheets, graphics and data bases. All of the county schools have access to the Internet for research and information retrieval.
    "We have four labs at Bridgeport right now, and have grant money in hand to create a multi-media lab. Teachers schedule their classes in order to integrate technology into their lesson plans," Frenzel said.
    More funding will come through the governor's SUCCESS program this year to purchase another 137 computers. "Net Days' around the county have seen volunteers help to wire numerous school buildings to give students even more access to technology.
    With so many computers in place, the need to train teachers to make the best use of technology has become an important issue. Frenzel said students often know more about computers and their applications than their teachers.
    "Using computers comes so naturally to children, but it's often a challenge for a teacher to try to remain current with the latest technology. There's a real push now to get our teachers trained in order to maximize the use of technology we do have," Frenzel said.
    Jim Eschenmann, technology coordinator for Harrison County schools, said the local school system has been able to make good use of state funds and grants in order to offer teachers computer literacy training.
    Training has been held on faculty senate days, after school and on some Saturdays to help keep teachers current with the latest technology.
    "Some teachers are still a little computer-phobic, but that attitude is slowly changing and I see teachers requesting more training. They're beginning to see technology as another tool to help them become better teachers," he said.
    In January, the school system received a $193,000 federal grant that is being used to set up a teacher training lab at the school board's central office. Teachers will be able to come for three days of training that they can take back and share with other teachers at their home schools.
    "The best part of this grant is that it includes the funds to cover substitutes so the teachers can come for training during the school day. It won't take away from the students or from their free time," Eschenmann said.
    Eschenmann said the lab can be used year-round and he expects to work with area colleges and universities to offer graduate training classes.
    "We've had a good deal of money to go toward computers but not much for training. This lab is a step in the right direction to ensure that our teachers know how best to incorporate all the technology we do have," he said.
    Brenda Williams, executive director of the Office of Technology for the state Department of Education, said the state recognizes the need for additional training for teachers and is working along with technology coordinators in every county to help  provide it.
    "We're in touch with all the coordinators who tell us what they need, and we help them organize and to focus on grants and other funding sources to make their ideas work," she said.
    Williams said the state department has offered teacher training and software packages to help learn the basic programs that are in the schools, but staffing and time continue to be hindrances to teachers upgrading their skills.
    "Because of the decline in our student population, the state funding formula doesn't allow for enough computer network people to cover every school. We'll  continue to offer all the training we can in order to make technology relevant and valid in the  classroom," she said.
    The local school system is incorporating some regional solutions to help meet the need for teacher technology training.
The West Virginia High Technology Consortium recently received a $7 million federal grant to help teachers develop multi-disciplinary lesson plans that can be posted on the Internet for use by other classroom teachers.
    The project, called the West Virginia TurnKey Solution, allows teams of teachers to come for five days of training, according to Lydotta Taylor, vice president of education at the consortium.
    During that time each team will practice and work together to create the lesson plans. Part of the grant money will pay for substitutes, for travel costs and for laptops for the teams that attend, Taylor said.
    "When I go to national meetings in other places, people are amazed to hear about what types of things we are doing in West Virginia. It appears we are way above what people may be doing in other places," Taylor said.

State considers change to domestic law system
by Troy Graham

    CHARLESTON - M. Drew Crislip and Tammy Marple have  seen the problems associated with the family law master system. A tremendous backlog of cases. A system that can be easily manipulated by divorce attorneys. Part-time law masters handling cases full-time.
    If you file for divorce today in Harrison County, even if you have no significant issues to iron out, such as child custody, it could be six months before you get a hearing, said Crislip, the county family law master.
    In magistrate court, there are about 25 domestic violence cases filed every week, but only about one out of 50 is a true abuse case, said Marple, a Harrison County magistrate. The rest are filed as a quick way to separate feuding couples and divide up property and settle custody issues.
    "Divorce attorneys use it to get a temporary order before the temporary family law master hearing," Marple said. "Everyone knows all you have to do is say, "I fear for my safety."
    That's why sweeping changes of the family law master system are being considered by the Legislature. The far-reaching overhaul of the system, expected to be approved by lawmakers, would set up 35 full-time family court judges across the state and move domestic violence cases to a newly-formed family court and add family court staff.
    Everyone agrees that the changes are badly needed. Not everyone is sure that the proposed changes would actually achieve the goals of reducing the backlog and eliminating abuses.
    There are changes that would obviously improve the system. Visitation and child custody issues would be required to be settled up front. The idea is to not allow parents to use their children as pawns in a divorce proceeding, said Delegate Arley Johnson, who is heading up a House subcommittee studying the changes.
    Secondly, mediation would be mandatory for all cases not involving domestic violence. "If they cannot agree, are just completely nasty, they're not eligible," said Johnson, D-Cabell. The subcommittee is also considering ways to make child support more fair for both parents, he said.
    In addition, the newly-designated family court judges would all be full-time, and they would receive more staff and better pay. There are now less than 30 family law masters, and about half are considered part-time, said Crislip, who is officially a part-time law master. "The workload doesn't permit me to do anything on the side," he said. "I'm able to write a will here and there, but that's rare."
    However, questions remain. Would the system be more efficient? Would the abuses be stopped? Who would pay for the additional staff and pay for judges?
    Crislip and Marple said those issues probably won't be resolved until after the new system is implemented. It is certain, Crislip said, that his caseload will probably be doubled if he is appointed the family law judge and he has to handle domestic violence cases as well. Those cases also have to be heard almost immediately, usually within five days, he said.
    But additional staff could cut down on the need for Crislip to do many functions himself during a hearing, he said. And increased fees for certain divorce filings, one proposed way to pay for the increased cost of the family court system, may cut down on divorce filings, Johnson said. In addition, mediation may make some divorces that could drag on easier to handle.
Either way, Crislip said he favors the changes. "I'm in favor of improving the judicial system anywhere we can," he said. "I'm not opposed to taking on any additional caseload."
    Although final domestic violence hearings would be handled in family court, emergency cases would still be handled by magistrates, Marple said. Magistrates would still be pulled out "in the middle of the night" to make temporary rulings, she said. Their caseload would be cut down by not having to make the final rulings, but that is no guarantee that the abuses would not continue, she said. "They drive us nuts," she said of the domestic violence cases.
    Harrison County Commissioners are also concerned about how to pay for the changes. In a letter to local delegates and senators, the commissioners urged them to pass along the money with the changes.
In addition to finding space for a family court, the county would have to pay for an additional bailiff and additional staff in the Circuit Clerk's office, the commissioners said. Without funding these changes in the system, "we have only shifted the burden to county government," they said. Lawmakers are still considering ways to fund the new court, Johnson said.
    Although pro bono, or free divorces, will still be available to the destitute, one funding mechanism already agreed upon is the increased fees for some divorce filings and proceedings.
    Johnson sees the fees as being  another possible way to reduce the backlog of cases. "If this bill encourages people to stay married and work things out, I don't have a problem with that."


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