After proms and other end-of-year celebrations were canceled in 2020, Kanawha County officials gathered Friday at Metro 911 headquarters to announce the resumption of Operation GPA, a program to ensure the safety of Kanawha students at prom and graduation.
The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office has coordinated Operation GPA, which stands for “Graduation Prom Alive,” since 2006. The program boosts law enforcement presence at end-of-year ceremonies when students are most at risk of getting in an accident.
“Statistics have shown on those particular dates our students are more likely by a vast majority to suffer injury or death than any other night of the year,” Sissonville High principal Ron Reedy said.
Kanawha Sheriff Mike Rutherford said the county has had no injuries or deaths since the program’s inception.
“We station police officers at every graduation site and every prom site just to let the kids know that we’re there for them,” he said. “We’re not there in any way to cause them to not have a good time. That’s exactly what we want them to do — is to have a good time and be around for many, many years to come.”
The program is a coordinated effort between county, school and law enforcement agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, the Kanawha County Board of Education, high school principals, the Kanawha County Commission, Metro 911, the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority, the West Virginia State Police and local police departments. It’s funded by the Kanawha County Commission.
“We’re very grateful and very excited, because one of the greatest memories you can have in high school is your prom experience,” St. Albans High Principal Jaclyn Swayne said. “We owe it to this graduating class of 2021. We know unfortunately they have not had their homecoming dance, their formals, the experience of coming and sharing in full force at athletic events. The least we can do is provide a safe and effective prom.”
Officials at Friday’s news conference also held a moment of silence for Capital High student Kelvin “KJ” Taylor, who was killed in a shooting Wednesday. Several attendees wore blue, the school’s color, in his honor.