Commentary: Helping To Examine School Safety

Commentary: Helping To Examine School Safety

On Thursday, April 26, I return to the Capitol as a member of the newly constituted Select Committee on School Safety for its inaugural meeting at 1:30 p.m. in the House Committee Room of the Pocahontas Building. The public is invited and I encourage you to attend if you are interested and can make it down to Richmond.

I join Delegates Mark Sickles and Vivian Watts as the only three Northern Virginia Delegates appointed by the Speaker to this Committee. The three of us visited with Fairfax County Public Schools on Tuesday to meet with their security team to understand how the county addresses school safety and what recommendations they have for the Select Committee.

On Monday night, I also visited a local elementary schools and noted their new security features. I plan to conduct future visits to our schools in Fairfax County to determine how we can ensure that our schools are safe for our children, teachers, and administrators. The goal of the Select Committee will be to make policy recommendations for consideration of the General Assembly during the 2019 Session and I urge you to contact me with your suggestions and thoughts.

The Speaker of the House has limited the Select Committee’s scope of work to strengthening emergency preparedness, hardening school security infrastructure, implementing security best practices, providing additional security personnel and behavioral health resources for students, and developing prevention protocols across the Commonwealth.

We are not allowed to consider any gun safety measures. I disagree with this and believe the best way to combat the increase in school shootings is to make sure fewer guns find their way into the hands of bad actors.

Despite my philosophical disagreement, this committee is conducting critically important work. We must recognize that the elephant in the room is the discussion we should be having on gun safety in our communities. The House Democrats have created a task force on gun safety which will convene meetings and public hearings across Virginia this summer and fall to build support and develop policy initiatives for common sense gun safety legislation for next year’s General Assembly session.

There are many K-12 school systems, colleges and universities across Virginia moving toward best practices options-based responses to an active shooter, while there are others that are still using decades old out-of-date practices. The need for legislation to ensure uniformity with proper training, along with the necessary funds to pay for that training is a priority of mine.

This is no different than our recognized need for uniformity when responding to fires and other natural disasters, and is in line with the statewide requirement to ensure proper CPR/AED training and practice for school staff. Our children, the Commonwealth’s students, must be safe at school and our response to critical incidents is best addressed by utilizing the latest research and recommendations from experts in the field.

To this point, I have met with an ad hoc committee of interested constituents and experts in the field to share with me with their expertise and to serve as a local sounding board to bounce ideas off of and gather information that I can use as a member of the Select Committee.

In addition to my efforts on the state level, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine will also host a meeting Thursday night at St. Aidan’s to discuss gun safety legislation at the federal level that you may want to attend.