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School Safety in Virginia Part 3. House Select Committee on School Safety

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the November 21 County Connections, VACo reported on the final recommendations by House Select Committee on School Safety. Read the article here.

Over the past several years, Virginia has implemented various policy measures meant to decrease the likelihood of school violence within the Commonwealth. Our last post delved into those actions, and we hope helped build a stronger understanding of the current school safety landscape. This time, however, we’re going to explore new policy proposals put forward by members of the General Assembly.

School Safety at the General Assembly

In March 2018, Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox created the House Select Committee on School Safety to “…review comprehensively state and local policies relating to school security and protection.” The Committee established three subcommittees, each focusing on specific aspects of the school safety discussion.  The three subcommittees were: Infrastructure and Security, Prevention and Response Protocol, and Student Behavior and Intervention. After concluding their work in September 2018, these subcommittees provided their lists of initial recommendations to the full Committee, which then evaluated those lists before approving a final proposal package in early November 2018. Read VACo’s report on the final recommendations.

Subcommittee on Infrastructure and Security: The Subcommittee on Infrastructure and Security’s recommendations generally fell into the categories of new funding, new mandates, and miscellaneous suggestions, all dealing with issues of intergovernmental collaboration, structural security, and new technologies.

New Funding: The Subcommittee suggested increased funding for the School Resource Officer Grants (SRO) Program, and increased funding for the School Security Equipment Grant Program. It also recommended that private elementary and secondary schools be allowed to apply for School Resource Officer Grants.

New Mandates: The Subcommittee suggested school boards be required to collaborate annually with local fire departments to study fire codes and protocols, and that schools be required to collaborate with emergency response agencies when developing safety plans. It was also recommended that public elementary and secondary schools be required to operate minimum security standards. The  Commonwealth also mandated that all school building projects be reviewed by experts in security design.

Other Recommendations: The Subcommittee suggested schools utilize mobile applications to facilitate better communicate with emergency responders, and that schools develop apps serving as anonymous tip lines. Further, the Subcommittee suggested the utilization of bullet-proof barriers in the classroom, syncing school security cameras with emergency communications centers, and developing social media monitoring programs. The Subcommittee also recommended that the Department of Criminal Justice Services create best practices for annual school safety audits and emergency response plans.

Subcommittee on Prevention and Response Protocol: This Subcommittee recommended a number of policy changes, the majority of which encompass policies for school security staff, mental health services, and new security measures.

Funding: The Subcommittee suggested increased funding for the School Resource Officer Grant Program, increased funding for the Department of Criminal Justices Services, new funding for the Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development Act, and increased funding for mental health services in elementary and secondary schools.

New Mandates: The Subcommittee would require “a Memorandum of Understanding between each local school board and the relevant local law-enforcement agency regarding the use of School Resource Officers.” It was also recommended that certain school staff be required to engage in Crisis Intervention Team training.

Other Recommendations: Proposals were made to increase mental health services available for public school students, increase communication between schools and emergency response agencies, and increase collaboration between crisis management planning stakeholders. In addition, it is recommended that retired law enforcement officers be allowed to serve as SROs, that certain services be provided to troubled youth prior to being taken to court, and that June primary election days be moved to the third Tuesday in June to avoid overlap with students in session.

Subcommittee on Student Behavior and Interventions: The Student Behavior and Intervention Subcommittee submitted its recommendations, which largely focused on addressing mental health initiatives within the public school system.

New Funding: The Subcommittee proposed increased funding for the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, new funding to train school staff in positive behavior intervention, increased funding for school mentorship programs, new funding for enhanced mental health services, and the elimination of the funding cap on support staff.

New Mandates: Suggested requirements included mandatory training for threat assessment teams and school personnel, statewide school climate surveys conducted by the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, and increased training for school security officers. School counselors would be required to spend 80 percent of their time on student services, annual mental health checks in certain grades would be required, teachers would be required to undergo mental health training, and mental health would be a required educational component. Further, emergency response plans would be required to emphasize recovery efforts, schools would be required to provide safety procedure training to students, and school safety Memorandums of Understanding between schools and law enforcement agencies would be required.

Other Recommendations: The Subcommittee also suggested a standardization of data collection, a distinction between threats of self-harm and threats of harm to others during threat assessment processes, a lower ratio of school counselors to students, and more.

Conclusion: After consideration of the aforementioned lists, the full House Select Committee on School Safety released its final list of priority recommendations on November 8, 2018. This final list included 24 recommendations to be considered for implementation. More information on the final list of recommendations can be found here.

Virginia must carefully consider the best ways in which to facilitate safe learning environments in its schools. We hope that this information regarding the work of the General Assembly will enhance your work to create these environments within your communities.

VACo Contact: Angela Inglett

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