Gov. Bob McDonnell has issued an executive order to establish a task force to review school and campus safety conditions in response to last week’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The task force will be co-chaired by three McDonnell cabinet secretaries and will include representatives from state agencies, law enforcement, public and private education, health care providers and the private sector. McDonnell said the panel will issue initial recommendations by Jan. 31, so that sate lawmakers can consider them during the 2013 General Assembly session.
The governor first announced plans to create the task force on Monday. His secretaries of education, public safety, and health and human resources will co-chair the group. McDonnell also has established a separate mental health workgroup that will be chaired by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel.
“I have ordered a detailed and thorough review of school and campus safety to identify areas of needed improvement and critical resource needs at the state, local, school division and college/university levels to ensure that we are doing everything humanly possible to keep our children, young people, educators, administrators and staff safe while they are in the classroom and on our campuses,” McDonnell said in a statement issued by his office.
“We must also have a broader American conversation about personal responsibility, mental health, firearms safety, respect for human life and the need to improve conflict resolution to reduce violence in our society,” the governor added.
McDonnell stirred controversy earlier this week when he told a radio interviewer that he would be open to a discussion about allowing school employees to be armed. McDonnell did not endorse the idea, but his comments drew criticism from some Democratic legislators.
Key Republican leaders in the House of Delegates said today that they will seek funding to put more school resource officers in Virginia’s elementary schools, a response to last week’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County and other GOP leaders said they will push to expand a state grant program for school resource officers during the upcoming General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 9. The lawmakers did not specify the amount of money they will seek or the number of officers they hope to add.
“The tragedy in Connecticut is heartbreaking,” Howell said in a news release. “As the Newtown community begins a healing process that will last longer than we can ever imagine, our thoughts naturally turn to our own children. We must look closely at everything we can to make sure our children, schools and communities are safe. This includes evaluating school safety, our mental health laws and services, and our gun laws.”
Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, said only about a quarter of the state’s elementary schools have resource officers assigned to them, and many officers are assigned to multiple schools. About 80 percent of the state’s high schools and middle schools have full-time resource officers, said Sherwood, a member of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee.
House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said resource officers “play a vital role in promoting safety and educating our young people about drugs, violence and a host of other issues.”
“They are often community members whom children look to as mentors and role models,’ Cox said. “Fully-integrated school resource officers are the eyes and ears of our schools. Their awareness and training adds an important safety dimension to our school systems that cannot be understated.”
– Michael Sluss