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Putting student safety first

Last week, the Select Committee on School Safety met on the campus of James Madison University where the committee authorized a final report supporting 24 priority recommendations to be presented to the General Assembly for the 2019 Session.

The committee is presenting a broad set of recommendations to make our kids and schools safer through threat prevention, counseling prioritization and increased mental health services, and increased training for school personnel and school security.

The priority recommendations include proposals to realign the role of school counselors, develop a statewide mental health and suicide prevention tip line application, increase funding for school security grants, create a Commission on Student Mental Health to continue to study a number of important topics considered by the committee, and increase funding for School Resource Officers (SRO).

Of Virginia’s 133 school districts, 127 already employ school resource officers, with 57 percent of schools having an SRO. The vast majority of SROs are in middle and high schools

The committee wants the state to pay for 44 new SRO positions – police officers employed by the local law enforcement agency and work in schools – at a cost of $1.76 million. The state has set aside $1.3 million each year since 2014 to help divisions deploy the officers through a grant program established in 1999.

When Speaker Cox formed the Select Committee on School Safety he promised that the final product would be comprehensive and consensus-driven. I believe the committee has accomplished that goal.

The Select Committee has been solutions oriented and focused on putting the safety of students over politics.

Collectively, the full committee and the subcommittees have met more than a dozen times in locations across the Commonwealth, received hundreds of comments from the public, and heard from many experts.

Del. C. Matthew Farris represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.