UPDATE (Jan. 21):
In a vote in Virginia's House of Delegates on Tuesday, a package of bills aimed to keep schools safer from shootings and violence passed unanimously.
The bills – HB 1725, HB 1729, HB 1732, HB 1733, and HB 1738 – were passed on a 97-0 vote, with three delegates not voting.
They emerged from recommendations made by the House Select Committee on School Safety made after last year’s Parkland, Florida shooting. You can learn more about each bill below.
ORIGINAL STORY (Jan. 22):
State lawmakers will vote this week on several bills aimed at making your child's school safer from shootings and violence.
The bills are part of the 24 recommendations the House Select Committee on School Safety made after last year’s Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 people dead.
The committee proposed the bills after a year of visiting Virginia schools and hearing expert and public comments on school safety.
The first five bills up for vote would make sure schools are up to state safety codes, require training drills, make the duties of a school resource officer clear, ensure new schools are designed for safety, and redirect school counselors’ time to do more student counseling rather than administering tests.
“Counselors, who I remind everyone are specifically trained in counseling and they’re highly educated to do so, they can spend the vast majority of their time, 80 percent of their time, actually counseling students rather than on administrative tasks," said Delegate Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave).
The first bill,
, would require school boards to work with local building officials and fire marshals to ensure all security enhancements to public school buildings are in compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code and the Statewide Fire Prevention Code.
, which was sponsored by Delegate Steve Landes, requires school counselors employed by school boards in public elementary or secondary schools to spend at least 80 percent of their staff time during normal school hours in the direct counseling of individual students or groups of students.
A third bill,
, would require each public elementary or secondary school to hold at least one general safety/emergency training or drill for students annually.
HB 1733 requires the school board in each division in which a local law enforcement agency employs school resource officers to enter into a memorandum of understanding with that agency to set determine the powers and duties of the SRO.
The last bill of these bills that will be heard by the full House, HB 1738, requires a licensed architect who is trained and experienced in crime prevention through environmental design to approve plans and specifications for new or remodeled public school building construction.
Speaker Cox says the state budget includes money to pay for these safety measures.
“The legislation passed this week will have an impact, I feel very strongly, on safety on students and teachers for generations to come," said House Speaker Kirk Cox (R - Colonial Heights).
The House Select Committee is bipartisan; however, Democrats criticized it for not tackling gun control. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has also proposed funding to hire more school counselors.
To track these and other bills that are making their way through the General Assembly, click
|On Monday, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox and other members of the House Select Committee on School Safety highlighted legislation introduced as priority recommendations of the Committee. This week the first of the Committee’s priority recommendations will be up for a vote in the House of Delegates.
“We are taking steps today to begin the legislative process of implementing a multi-year blueprint for improving school safety,” said Speaker Kirk Cox (R - Colonial Heights), who served as chairman of the Select Committee on School Safety. “When I took the oath of office last year as Speaker of the House, 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.”
This week the first five pieces of legislation will make it to the floor of the House of Delegates where they will be voted on by the full body. The Select Committee has been solutions-oriented and focused on putting the safety of students over politics. Collectively, the full committee and the subcommittees met more than a dozen times in locations across the Commonwealth, received hundreds of comments from the public, and heard from many subject-matter experts.
“Over the past eight months, this Committee worked diligently to create dialogues with key stakeholders, visited countless schools across the Commonwealth, and received nearly 60 draft legislative and budgetary proposals,” said Delegate Danny Marshall (R - Danville), who served as vice-chair of the Select Committee on School Safety. “Every member, Democrat and Republican, devoted considerable time and effort to this initiative, and I want to express my sincere appreciation for that.”
The subcommittees within the select committee focused on re-aligning our school counselor duties to better serve students, addressing mental and behavioral health in schools, improving training and school security infrastructure, and providing a list of best practices for localities.
“We must ensure students have access to the counseling they need,” said Delegate Steve Landes (R - Augusta), who served as chairman of the Student Behavior and Intervention Subcommittee. “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. I am proud to be carrying HB 1729 to require counselors spend at least 80% of their time actually counseling students.”
“Resource officers can be a first line of law enforcement defense but are also vital when it comes to prevention,” said Delegate Nick Rush (R - Montgomery), who served as the chairman of the Infrastructure & Security Subcommittee. “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.”
“When it comes to school safety it is vitally important for a school district to work closely with law enforcement, fire officials, and emergency services officials when developmenting any school crisis and emergency plan,” said Chris Peace (R - Hanover), who served as chairman of the Prevention & Response Subcommittee. “If there is an emergency, it’s helpful if first responders aren’t running in to an unknown location to address what might be an unknown threat.”
Click Here for the current status of nearly a dozen pieces of legislation that were a direct result of the 24 priority recommendations released by the committee in December.
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