Southside state delegate helps form legislative committee to examine school safety

Delegate Danny Marshal co-created committee with House Speaker Kirk Cox

DANVILLE, Va. – After last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Virginia 4th District Delegate Danny Marshal approached Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox and together they formed the Select Committee on School Safety.

"If you look at courtrooms, you're secure. You can't even go in a courtroom with a cellphone, much less a weapon. Same thing with the airports," Marshal said. "So the idea is to look at ways that we can secure the schools."

The committee plans to meet four times this year to discuss ideas and then bring legislation before the General Assembly next year to try to implement some of the ideas.

"It could be from the classrooms being secure, it could be, I would think what's probably going to happen, is you're going to have a metal detector at the entrances to the school," Marshall said.

He added that the committee will search nationally and internationally for ideas.

"(We're going to) look for best practices, look for what some other schools are doing here in the states, then also maybe get some information from what's happening abroad. I'm sure that Israel's probably already crossed this bridge, so we'll look at those ideas," Marshal said.

Sandy Strayer, Henry County operations and administrative services assistant superintendent, said the district supports and will implement any mandates from the General Assembly or the Department of Education, but not without concern.

"Of course, there's always the worry of the unfunded mandate," Strayer said. "To make sure that districts could all afford the installation of metal detectors."

Regardless, she is glad to see legislators focused on making schools safer.

"I always feel that when legislators take a look at something, that that's going to bring more attention to it and I do think that will help," Strayer said.

The 22-delegate bipartisan committee plans to have its first meeting this spring, but an exact date has not been set yet.

Why Israel?

Why is Marshal suggesting looking at school security in Israel for ideas about how to improve school security in the U.S.? Israel is well known for its school security measures.

A recent Washington Post article noted that in the week after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, parents who called on President Donald Trump to take action to help prevent more school shootings suggested school security measures in Israel as an example.

Arming teachers

In the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting, much discussion has been had nationwide about if allowing teachers to carry guns in school is a good idea.

As 10 News reported on Mar. 6, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that a majority of Americans are against arming teachers.

Speaking to media on Mar. 6 after an economic development announcement in Danville, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he does not believe arming teachers is a good idea.

"We certainly need to invest our resources and our energy into law enforcement and other areas, but to arm teachers I don't think is a good idea," Northam said.

 Marshal said he doesn't know if it's a good idea or not, but noted that if teachers are allowed to carry guns, that would present some challenges.

"How do you secure that weapon inside the classroom? You'd almost have to have a gun safe in there so that that weapon is secure," Marshal said.

"If (arming teachers) does happen, you're going to have to make sure the teachers or staff has the proper training to do."

The Washington Post article notes that, by policy, teachers in Israel don't carry guns.

"Professionals deal with the security," Israeli education ministry spokesperson Amos Shavit is quoted as saying. "Not the teachers."

Where would Virginia get the money to help schools pay for mandated security upgrades, such as metal detectors?

That's a good question, and one that Marshal said was a point of emphasis when creating the committee.

He also said that he believes the expense of mandating school security upgrades is two-fold.

"We're going to have, first of all, the expense of securing our schools. What do you have to do if we put in metal detectors, if we secure doors," Marshal said. "My school systems (Danville, Pittsylvania County, Henry County) don't have that kind of money. So first of all I suggested we're going to have to find a revenue source to fund those upgrades."

The second expense is for school resource officers. Marshal said he hopes to find a "dedicated source of funds" for resource officers.

While no funding sources have been determined yet, Marshal is confident the committee can find some.

"The committee was set up with a number of chairman of different committees. You have the chairman, Chris Jones, of (the House Appropriations Committee). You also have the chairman of the House Education Committee," Marshal pointed out.

"You the chairman of the House Courts Committee, because there's going to be a lot of little legal issues here about constitutionally what we can do, what we can't do. We have the vice chair of the militia and police."

Setting an example

Marshal said he hopes legislators in other states will follow Virginia's example and begin creating groups similar to the Select Committee on School Safety.

"I have a friend who's in the North Carolina General Assembly, so I have sent him this information to see if they can pick it up," Marshal said. "So I'm sure other states will pick it up. I think that this is a reasonable approach to try to secure the schools." 

About the Author: