After Parkland massacre, Virginia lawmakers aim to improve school safety

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Select Committee on School Safety met for the first time Thursday afternoon at the Virginia General Assembly.  Speaker of the House Kirk Cox formed the committee following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida to find ways to improve security and safety in Virginia schools.

The committee, comprised of 22 House members from both parties, met for more than two hours, mostly setting the table for future talks.  The committee was briefed on the actions taken in 2013 by a task force commissioned by then Governor McDonnell following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and how current state laws and funding influence safety at schools.

Speaker Cox said the issue is complex and multi-faceted, so the focus of the select committee will reflect that fact.  At Thursday's meeting, lawmakers discussed several areas of school safety including hardening school buildings, ensuring proper security steps are followed, and finding more funding to help school districts hire School Resource Officers.

Multiple lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, said the committee needs to focus on more than threats coming from outside the school building.

"I think it is imperative on us to also focus on the everyday violence that happens in our schools.  Everything from bullying to neighborhood and community problems that make their way to the school," said Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond).

“People when they think about safety they think about can anyone get in to cause harm.  I think everyone knows that much of what occurs comes from within," said Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk).

The  committee pitched ideas like ensuring local threat assessment teams received adequate training and funding for more school counselors and/or student support staff.  Threat assessment teams are required in every school district in Virginia and are tasked with identifying concerning student behavior before it turns violent.

The select committee will meet again in June.  The group will author a list of recommendations that will be crafted into legislation during the 2019 General Assembly session.

Speaker Cox said they want to hear input from parents, students, and citizens across Virginia.  On the select committee's website, a public comment section is live for citizens to send in their own ideas and input on improving school safety in Virginia.