RICHMOND — One month after the mass shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday asked a new state task force to “look at all aspects of school and campus safety and see if there is something we can do better.”
But larger policy issues such as gun control won’t be part of the panel’s deliberations, an administration official told the task force.
McDonnell asked the Task Force of School and Campus Safety to examine a broad range of school safety issues and provide legislative and budget recommendations. He created the task force in response to the Dec. 14 shootings at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead. The panel includes legislators and representatives from state agencies, law enforcement, health care providers, public and private education systems and the private sector.
McDonnell wants the panel to deliver initial recommendations by the end of this month and make additional recommendations by June 30.
In brief remarks at Monday’s first task force meeting, McDonnell said he wants to make sure students can attend school “in a safe and secure environment without these threats existing to the maximum degree humanly possible.”
He asked the panel to look at all aspects of school and campus safety and also examine the strength of the state’s mental health system, “particularly as it relates to issues of firearms and civil commitment and crisis intervention.”
McDonnell submitted additional budget amendments to the General Assembly on Friday, and asked the chairmen of the legislature’s budget-writing committees to reserve a portion of a $33 million unspent balance for the task force’s recommendations.
Before McDonnell addressed the panel, Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker told the task force that budget constraints require the group to be “realistic” in its recommendations.
“This doesn’t mean that the task force should not think creatively, but that we must take a logical approach to sending recommendations to the governor and to the General Assembly,” she said.
Decker also told the task force that their work will be limited in scope and won’t tackle larger policy issues such as gun control and education funding.
McDonnell later told reporters that he wants the task force to “tell me what they think is the right thing to do, then we can determine based on the reality of the resources what is doable.”
McDonnell acknowledged that some proposals, such as putting a police resource officer in every school, likely would be cost prohibitive.
Republicans in the House of Delegates have vowed to put more money into a grant program for school resource officers. One legislator has proposed requiring schools to have an armed employee on campus.
McDonnell said last month that he would be open to discussing the idea of allowing school employees to be armed. Asked about his positions Monday, he said, “I simply suggested that if bad guys are breaking into school with guns if there’s someone that is armed, whether it’s a teacher, whether it’s another school resource officer, that could defend those young people, we ought to talk about it. And people shouldn’t be afraid of talking about that idea.”
– Michael Sluss