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1207 to the 95 Blog – School Safety in Virginia: Part I. Where are we, and where are we going?

Over the last several years, Virginians, along with the rest of the nation, have expressed a renewed interest in school safety. Understanding the importance of safe learning environments to all community members, VACo will address this issue with a 1207 to the 95 series that will examine key components of the school safety discussion.

As always, keep in mind that VACo is not endorsing the content or opinion linked here, but simply sharing information and resources. Today’s post will review the origins of the current school safety debate and discuss federal efforts to address the issue.

Why discuss school safety?
School safety has been a concern for decades, but especially after devastating events at Columbine High School in Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, in addition to more recent attacks at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and Santa Fe High School in Texas. Given the heartbreaking loss of innocent life during these attacks, it is hardly surprising that this issue is increasingly on the minds of parents, community members, school staff, and students themselves.

How prevalent are these attacks?
School shootings understandably receive a great deal of news coverage, so it can be difficult to keep in mind that these attacks are rare. In fact, research suggests that the number of deadly incidents in schools has decreased over the last 20 years. Some further argue that the data does not point toward an epidemic of school shootings and that efforts to increase school safety should reflect that reality. Others, however, counter that the number of deaths due to school shootings have in fact increased in comparison to past decades.

One attack is one too many.
While these events are rare, we must examine why these incidents occur at all, and how families, communities, and schools may prevent them. During this national discussion, major ideas of consideration have included gun restrictions, armed school employees, increased structural security, improved mental health services, and the development of a healthier school atmosphere. Both states and the federal government continue to evaluate the benefits and costs, both financial and social, of each proposal. Review a proposal by the Research Institute at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and a United States Secret Service report for more information about prevention proposals.

What is the federal government doing?
The White House recently instituted the Federal Commission on School Safety, tasking the Commission with, “…quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school. These recommendations will include a range of issues, like social emotional support, recommendation on effective school safety infrastructure, discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases, and the impact that videogames and the media have on violence.”  Review the Commission’s webpage where you can watch Commission meetings, examine resource material, and learn more about the scope of the Commission’s study. Thus far, the Commission has held public listening sessions and hearing on issues including Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, The Ecology of Schools: Fostering a Culture of Human Flourishing and Developing Character, and Curating a Healthier & Safer Approach: Issues of Mental Health and Counseling for our Young.

In Congress this year, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4909, the STOP School Violence Act of 2018. According to the Congressional Research Service, the bill will, “reauthorize through FY2028 the Secure Our Schools grant program. This grant program provides grants to states, local governments, and Indian tribes to improve security, including the placement and use of metal detectors and other deterrent measures, at schools and on school grounds.” The United States Senate has its own legislative proposals regarding this issue, but none have yet passed that body.

For more information about the history of federal action to address school safety, please review a report compiled by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress.

Thank you for reading along with us as we discuss school safety initiatives. We hope you’ll read through each of the resources provided here, and that you’ll continue to join us as we learn more about this issue.

VACo Contact: Angela Inglett

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