McDonnell introduces school safety measures

Published 9:26 pm Monday, February 11, 2013

Governor Bob McDonnell has introduced a raft of legislation intended to enhance safety and security in public schools.

The eight pieces of legislation, all of which have progressed to some degree since being introduced into the General Assembly last Friday, also apparently seek to make school districts more responsible for lessening the risk of tragedies such as the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six adults dead.

For instance, school boards would be required to establish threat assessment teams overseen by local committees.

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The teams would “provide guidance to students, faculty and staff regarding recognition of threatening or aberrant behavior that may represent a threat to the community,” as well as identify to whom within districts reports should be made and develop assessment and intervention procedures, according to the bill summary.

The House has referred the proposal to its Militia, Police and Public Safety committee, which next meets this Friday.

The governor’s proposed legislation has emerged from a school and campus safety taskforce and separate mental health workgroup that he ordered formed in the aftermath of the deadly Connecticut school shooting, a news release indicates.

“It is important that we are doing everything in our power to provide a safe learning environment in our schools and on our campuses,” McDonnell stated in the release.

“We have no greater obligation than protecting our children and those who are engaged in the important role of educating our children and young people.”

The proposed legislation, which comes after budget recommendations to increase school safety funding, would also extend civil immunity to those who “in good faith” report information regarding an individual who “poses a credible danger of serious bodily injury or death to one or more students, schools, personnel or others on school property.” That measure was reported out of the Senate Courts of Justice committee on Monday with unanimous support.

Other measures from the governor that the House has referred to Militia, Police and Public Safety include:

  • Requiring each school district to designate a staff member to coordinate preparation for incidents like Sandy Hook as well as hold a lockdown drill each semester.
  • Enabling sharing of student intake and petition information between school districts and private and public education institutions.
  • Directing the departments of Criminal Justice Services, Education, Behavioral Health and Development Services and Virginia State Police to develop an incident-response training program for school personnel and providers of services to schools.
  • Creating a fund to provide grants and loans to localities — with matching funds required — to “improve security and for other security purposes.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Courts of Justice committee also reported out on Monday two elements of the governor’s agenda directly related to firearms.

A bid to make it a Class 3 felony — punishable by five to 20 years in prison — to enter a school armed, or with an explosive device, “with the intent to commit a violent felony,” was reported with amendments. The second proposal, which has been re-referred to the Senate Finance committee, seeks to enact a 10-year mandatory prison sentence for anyone who lawfully purchases a gun then transfers it to a person ineligible to own one.