The House Select Committee on School Safety met on November 14 in Harrisonburg to finalize its recommendations for the upcoming 2019 General Assembly Session. Speaker Kirk Cox, who created the Select Committee earlier this year, offered a set of recommendations as a priority list for the Committee’s endorsement; these recommendations were culled from a longer list submitted by three subcommittees in September. Speaker Cox characterized the priority list as representing consensus recommendations that stood a realistic chance of being funded; the balance of the recommendations submitted by subcommittee members will be included as an addendum to the Select Committee’s final report, expected to be completed by December 15.
Priority recommendations adopted by the Select Committee are grouped into two main categories: counseling and mental health, and training and school security. Staff from the Division of Legislative Services, working with House Appropriations Committee staff, developed cost estimates for several recommendations, although the fiscal impact for some items could not be determined until they are further refined. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones suggested that appropriators would likely work during the General Assembly session to develop an overall funding amount that could be made available for school safety enhancements, presumably after major decisions regarding overall available revenues are settled.
Major recommendations in the “Counseling and Mental Health” category include the following:
- Realign school counselors’ responsibilities so that the majority of their time is spent providing direct student services; additional staff positions would be funded (possibly through the Standards of Quality) to assume some of the counselors’ current administrative duties. Depending on how this realignment is structured, additional local funding could be required. Eliminating the cap on the number of support positions that are recognized in the Standards of Quality, a longstanding priority for local governments, was not included in the priority list of recommendations, but is expected to be included in the report’s appendix, as is a recommendation to lower the ratio of school counselors to students.
- Implement a statewide mental health and suicide prevention tip line.
- Require that mental and emotional health be included in family life education programs.
- Establish a Commission on Student Mental Health.
- Amend the Virginia Juvenile Community Crime Control Act to allow community services to be provided to juveniles before they are brought before a court. This item will need to be monitored to determine the effect of adding a new population to the existing funding stream, which has been reduced significantly since it was instituted.
Major recommendations in the “Training and School Security” Category include the following:
- Prioritize funding to the Center for School and Campus Safety to provide training to education and law enforcement professionals, implement a statewide school climate survey, and maintain a catalog of best practices.
- Require annual school-wide training on safety procedures.
- Prioritize funding for the School Resource Officer Grants Program to fund 44 additional School Resource Officer Positions.
- Require all school divisions receiving funding through the School Resource Officer Grants Program to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with local law enforcement to set out expectations for school resource officers.
- Allow retired law enforcement officers to serve as school resource or school security officers without affecting their retirement benefits.
- Increase funding for grants to school divisions through the Public School Security Equipment Grant Program.
- Require the inclusion of local school divisions in public safety voice communications systems.
- Move June primary elections from the second to the third Tuesday in June and make the November election day a student holiday.
- Require school boards to collaborate with local fire departments to ensure that security enhancements comply with building and fire codes.
- Require school crisis and other emergency response plans to be developed and reviewed collaboratively by school boards and local public safety agencies.
The Committee also adopted several recommendations for localities and school boards, including encouraging localities to enter into mutual aid agreements for emergency services and recommending that localities include public safety staff and other professionals with experience in school safety audits in school design and security planning. The full list of priority recommendations is available at this link.
VACo’s recently-concluded annual conference included a breakout session on school safety, featuring House Education Committee Chairman Steven Landes and Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova, with the conversation moderated by Stafford County Chairman Meg Bohmke. A recording of the session is available at this link.