The Select Committee on School Safety is “a step in the right direction.”

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Earlier in March, Speaker Kirk Cox announced the formation of the first Select Committee formed in 150 years. The Select Committee on School Safety is tasked with reviewing state and local policies on school safety and make recommendations for consideration by the General Assembly during the 2019 Session. Since the announcement the proposal has received widespread praise for addressing the important issue of ensuring children are free to learn in a safe environment. Some of the recent news coverage is below.

Southside state delegate helps form legislative committee to examine school safety (WSLS-TV)

 

EDITORIAL: House decision a step in the right direction (Martinsville Bulletin)

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that children need to be safe.

They shouldn’t go to school worried about a classmate or some random person walking into school with a firearm and opening fire while they’re in class. Regardless of our social, religious or political feelings, we as communities and states should be able to sit down and come up with a plan to protect them. That’s why we applaud Thursday’s decision by the Virginia House of Delegates.

As we report on today’s front page, Speaker Kirk Cox created the House Select Committee on School Safety. It’s a group made up of delegates from across the state, including our own Danny Marshall. The committee is tasked with the assignment of reviewing state and local policies on school safety and making recommendations for the full General Assembly to take up next year.

Here’s one key component of that assignment we keenly appreciate. Their task involves not only recommendations on new measures to take, but also how the state will pay for it. As Marshall himself said in today’s story, his district, including Henry County, just doesn’t have the money to pay for any unfunded mandates.

To not just present a proposal, but also detail how it will be funded, addresses that concern. It helps not just Henry County, but other rural areas like Franklin or Patrick that would ultimately put in place the same policies as schools in the Tidewater or Northern Virginia. That by itself will help craft policies that will benefit people, as opposed to pieces of paper.

But more than that, the scope of the committee is something to be applauded. As Marshall said, the group will be looking this year at everything from what other states do, to how other nations approach the issue of school shootings. How does Israel keep students safe? What are the procedures in Australia to prevent this type of thing? Closer to home, what are other states doing? In Nebraska, for example, some parents are buying bulletproof panels, to have them installed in the classrooms. In Indiana, some schools employ cameras with a direct feed to the county sheriff’s office, while others have installed smoke cannons in the hallways, with the idea that you can disorient the shooter while students get to safety.

We’re not saying any of these options are the answer-but we’re also not saying they won’t work.

However, it’s important to examine all of the options and see which ones best fit Virginia classrooms. In cases like this, it helps to step outside of the box and look at other ideas.

We all have our own thoughts on the issue, with different ways of addressing it. In recent weeks, you’ve seen quite of few of them come through our letters to the editor, with people being very vocal on their plan of choice. And we understand the passionate views on both sides. Some people want tighter restrictions on gun ownership, while others want to see teachers armed to address the threat.

Here’s what we’re asking, however. Let’s give the group time to do their work. Let them research, let them learn how things work in other states and countries and come up with recommendations, as well as a plan to implement and pay for them.

We understand it’s admittedly a hard thing to ask. Especially when it comes to protecting our kids, we want a solution right now, not in five months’ time. But if we want a long-term solution, this is a good first step.

 

Delegate O’Quinn touring schools as part of select committee on school safety (WCYB-TV)

BRISTOL, Va. — There have been more and more calls for increased security measures after the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. Virginia’s House of Delegates formed a select committee for the first time in 150 years to address the issue of school safety.

News 5 is meeting with legislators, school administrators, and police to find out how they are all coming together to protect our children.

“This is our most precious commodity are these children,” Bristol, Virginia school resource officer Mike Danser said.

Chances are if you enter Highland View Elementary School, you are going to see Danser. He has been the school resource officer there for two years, and his desk is right by the front door.

Danser said, “We don’t allow anyone in the building until we absolutely know who they are and they have a valid reason for being in the building.”

Part of Danser’s strict policy is making sure every visitor scans in. That policy even includes our visitors Thursday, the police chief and Delegate Israel O’Quinn.

O’Quinn is now serving on the new Virginia House Select Committee on School Safety. He is touring local schools to decide his recommendations to the 21 other delegates on the committee.

“That front door is really the key focal point and from there once you may obtain access, making sure you have the proper measures and protocols in place if the worst-case scenario were to happen,” O’Quinn said.

O’Quinn said the select committee members represent bi-partisan values from rural, urban, and suburban areas. They serve on committees like public safety, education, and appropriations.

“What I think you’ll see is everything from A to Z that’s available to us, figuring out the most important things we can do to put into what will probably partially be a legislative package of individual bills, but will also have to be funding package as well through the House Appropriations Committee,” O’Quinn said.

Highland View’s principal says communication with all is key in a generation where education is ever-changing.

“Once upon a time back when I started in education, we would just barricade the classroom and hide. We no longer want to do that and the philosophies have changed for school safety,” Pamela Davis said.

The select committee is going to meet over the next several months and must make recommendations by the end of the year.

 

Marshall to serve as vice chairman on school safety committee (Danville Register & Bee)

The Virginia House of Delegates has formed a Select Committee on School Safety following the school shooting in Florida last month.

It is the first select committee formed in the House since Abraham Lincoln was president, and Del. Danny Marshall — who proposed the committee — will be its vice chairman.

Marshall, R-Danville, said he brought the idea to House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, a couple of weeks ago after seeing a television interview on a Sunday morning show with a father from Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died in a school shooting Feb. 14, who said the issue was not about guns or mental illness, but making schools safer.

“The thing we have to work on is securing our schools,” Marshall said.

Our nation already has courtroom and airport security, Marshall said, why not have it for our schools?

The 22-member committee — the first House select committee formed in 155 years — will include 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, with Cox as chairman. It will review state and local policy on school safety and make recommendations to the General Assembly during the 2019 session.

Members also will examine what has been done in schools in other states and countries to secure themselves. The plan is for the committee to have an organizational meeting this spring and meet at least four other times to take input on how to secure schools.

“We’ll bring all these ideas and see how we can take those best ideas and implement them,” Marshall said.

Beefing up security and paying for resource officers in schools across the state will cost money. Part of the issue will be figuring out how to pay for it all, Marshall said.

School officials in Danville and Pittsylvania County expressed support for the committee’s formation.

“We all want our schools to be safe,” said Pittsylvania County Schools Superintendent Mark Jones, adding that looking at ways to secure schools is “always a good thing to do.”

Danville Public Schools Director of Safety and Security Dave Cochran said of the House’s move: “We not only support but appreciate any research and subsequent actions that will help us to keep our children safer.”

The two school divisions have already been able to take advantage of state school security equipment grants over the past several years to help pay for security upgrades in their schools.

“That’s been helpful for us,” Jones said.

Steps in the county’s schools have included buzz-in systems with cameras at entrances, security cameras inside and outside the buildings, and a badge-swipe system for staff members entering schools, he said.

County schools also conducts drill for different scenarios, including fire drills, have crisis management teams in each building, reviews crisis management plans each year and conducts a safety audit of each school, Jones said.

As for Danville’s school division, security measures have included state-certified security officers at the middle and high schools, school resource officers under an agreement with the Danville Police Department, and upgrades to its video surveillance system, Cochran said.

Other strategies include a social media monitoring system, hand-held radios for communication and staff trained in non-violent crisis prevention training, Cochran said.

“Public education cannot exist in an unsafe environment, so anything that Marshall and other legislators will do to help us provide safer and better schools is obviously appreciated,” he said.

 

Va. House speaker looks to boost school security, in a year, without wading into gun debate (Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Amid pressure to respond to last month’s school massacre in Florida, the Republican leader of Virginia’s House announced on Thursday the creation of a special committee that will focus on beefing up K-12 security but steer clear of gun issues.

Speaker M. Kirkland Cox (Colonial Heights) will appoint a select committee that will look for ways to make schools harder targets, including physical improvements such as bulletproof windows. Its mission would be to create a package of bills for the 2019 General Assembly session.

The approach might help Cox sidestep the most emotionally charged topics — restricting guns and arming teachers — that have been thrust into the spotlight since a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

It is unlikely to fully satisfy House Democrats, who nearly took control of the chamber in November elections and last week invoked Parkland as they called on Republicans to revive gun-control bills quashed in GOP-controlled committees.

Republicans said it was too late to do so.

“The Va House GOP wants to turn our schools into fortresses as secure as courtrooms and police station and the interior areas of airports just to avoid having a discussion about gun safety,” tweeted Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax).

Cox’s announcement came one day after Florida lawmakers passed legislation to impose a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raise the minimum age for buying them to 21 and create a program to train and arm some school employees.

Cox, a retired teacher whose party has two-seat majorities in the state House and Senate, would serve as chairman of the bipartisan panel.

It will begin meeting after the General Assembly session concludes Saturday.

Cox played up the rarity of creating a select committee — the first formed in the House in more than 150 years — as an indication of how deeply he cares about the issue. Select committees cross the jurisdictional lines of established committees and are “reserved for matters of considerable significance,” his announcement noted.

“We are taking a bold and significant step today to make school safety a top priority of the House of Delegates,” Cox said.

Some Democrats were underwhelmed by the gesture, given that Cox declared gun control outside the panel’s scope. Its work will be limited to “strengthening emergency preparedness, hardening school security infrastructure, implementing security best practices, deploying additional security personnel, providing additional behavioral health resources for students, and developing prevention protocols at primary and secondary institutions across the Commonwealth,” Cox said in a letter to House Clerk G. Paul Nardo.

Those limits will prevent “more partisan issues” from distracting the panel members from “the important steps we must take to ensure that our children are safe in our public schools,” Cox said.

House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) and Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Charniele L. Herring (Alexandria) welcomed Cox’s invitation to study school safety, but said they were disappointed that gun control would not be part of the discussion.

“The issue of safety in schools is not a substitute for a greater conversation on gun violence, which is a crisis not just in our schools, but in spaces both public and private in communities throughout the nation,” Toscano and Herring said in a joint written statement.

The two announced plans to hold town hall meetings across the state to discuss gun violence and invited their GOP colleagues to join them.

“While we may have different views about how to diminish gun violence in America, there is bipartisan consensus in Virginia that we must redouble our efforts to address not just school safety, but also gun safety in America,” they said.

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