This week, the first of many of the Select Committee on School Safety’s priority recommendations will come to the floor of the House of Delegates for a vote. The first select committee in 155 years was created following last February’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, primed to increase security in schools across the Commonwealth and protect students, teachers, and staff from harm in emergencies.
In a press release, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said, “We are taking steps today to begin the legislative process of implementing a multi-year blueprint for improving school safety.”
Speaker Cox, who was a government teacher for nearly 30 years and is chairman of the select committee added, “When I took the oath of office last year…I wanted my time as speaker to have a meaningful impact on the future of the Commonwealth. The work of this committee and specifically the legislation passed this week will have an impact on the safety of our students and teachers for generations to come.”
After the authorization of the 24-point priority recommendation plan to increase security in schools, Cox said during an address to the House Education Committee last week that the work done by the select committee was “groundbreaking.”
Some of the legislation to come forth this week to enhance protections in Virginia schools are:
H.B. 1725, sponsored by Delegate Barry Knight (R-Chesapeake), dictates that each school board must cooperate with local building officials and a local fire marshal to develop a procurement plan to ensure that all security enhancements to public school buildings are in compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code and Statewide Fire Prevention Code.
H.B. 1729, introduced by House Education Committee Chairman Steven Landes (R-Augusta), would require school counselors across the state to spend at least 80 percent of their time counseling students.
“We must ensure students have access to the counseling they need,” said Landes. “School counselors told the committee over and over again they are all too often being tasked with administrative responsibilities, such as coordinating testing, which prevents them from actually providing counseling services to students.”
H.B. 1732, sponsored by Delegate Israel O’Quinn (R-Bristol), would set forth annual safety training in public elementary and secondary schools. Principals would be required to develop and deliver – to each student and employee – training on safety procedures in the event of an emergency situation on school property.
H.B. 1733, patroned by House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), would require a school division to enter into a memorandum of understanding with a local law enforcement agency that sets forth the powers and duties of the school resource officers (SROs).
H.B. 1738, introduced by Majority Whip Nick Rush (R-Floyd), would require a licensed architect or professional engineer to approve all plans and specifications for new or remodeled public school building construction. Moreover, the designee must be trained and experienced in crime prevention through environmental design.
Bills currently in committee are:
H.B. 1615, also introduced by Landes, would change the date of June primary elections from the second Tuesday of the month to the third Tuesday so schools will not be in session. The bill is in the Privileges and Elections Committee.
H.B. 1734, introduced by Delegate Danny Marshall (R-Danville), would require the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety to develop a case management tool for use by public elementary and secondary school threat assessment teams, and require such threat assessment teams to use such tool to collect and report to the Center quantitative data on its activities.
Marshall, who is also the vice-chairman of the Select Committee on School Safety, said in the release, “Over the past eight months, this Committee worked diligently to create dialogues with key stakeholders, visited countless schools across the Commonwealth,” adding that “every member, Democrat and Republican, devoted considerable time and effort to this initiative, and I want to express my sincere appreciation for that.”
H.B. 1735, patroned by Delegate Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield), would direct the Student Behavioral Health Commission to study student behavioral health matters and establish a suicide and violence prevention tip line, similar to SafeUT. The Commission would analyze current school counselor-to-student ratios and whether the realignment of counseling responsibilities would improve student services.
Furthermore, additional de-escalation and alternative disciplinary policies when interacting with students suffering from mental health challenges may be implemented, with teacher training requirements on student mental health, such as mental health first aid. The bill is in the Rules Committee.
H.B. 1737, sponsored by Delegate Thomas Wright (R-Cumberland), would require school boards to include the chief law enforcement officer, the fire chief, the chief of the emergency medical services agency, and the emergency management official of the locality, or their designees, in the development and review of school crisis, emergency management, and medical emergency response plans. The bill is in the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.
H.B. 1739, introduced by Majority Whip Nick Rush (R-Floyd), specifies that, for the purpose of eligibility for grants for security equipment through the Public School Security Equipment Grant Act of 2013, security equipment in Virginia schools includes software and mobile applications to allow for more modern school safety technology that is currently available in the market. The bill is in the Education Committee.
“Resource officers can be a first line of law enforcement defense but are also vital when it comes to prevention,” said Rush. Also serving as the chairman of the Infrastructure and Security Subcommittee, the delegate added, “My subcommittee highlighted the need to increase funding for the School Resource Officer Grant Program. I am proud of the work we have done in past years to designate more money for these positions but still have work to do.”
Delegate Chris Peace (R-Hanover), who chairs the Prevention and Response subcommittee, which is integral to the safety of Virginia school students, added that “it is vitally important for a school district to work closely with law enforcement, fire officials, and emergency services officials when developing any school crisis and emergency plan…it’s helpful if first responders aren’t running in to an unknown location to address what might be an unknown threat.”