School safety improvements see bipartisan support at state level

General Assembly to consider adding state-level funding, safety requirements

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia’s General Assembly could pass measures this session to improve safety at schools across the commonwealth. A set of bills has gained bipartisan support but disagreements could lie ahead over funding and what the bill leaves out.

The Republican majority formed a bipartisan committee after the horrific Parkland, Florida school shooting in 2018. After taking input on the best practices, it then made a list of recommendations, which it says has support from security experts.

The recommendations include funding for new school resource officers and more school security grants, requiring schoolwide safety training and teaching mental health in the family life curriculum and making sure counselors are using most of their time on students’ behavioral and emotional needs.

Republican Sen. Bill Stanley, who represents areas from Franklin County to Southside, supports the measures.

“I’m totally for increasing the number of mental health counselors and experts that we can have in our elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. I think we have to have that,” he said.

But he’s worried that the state may not fund all the requirements, leaving school districts to foot the bill. In the rural areas he represents, that may be difficult.

“If the state really wants to undertake this and do it in a meaningful way, and make sure the localities don’t have to pay for it, then I think it’s a good idea,” he said.

Many Democrats, including Del. Chris Hurst, who represents parts of the New River Valley, support the recommendations. But Hurst wants gun-related measures to be in the conversation.

“The package that’s proposed by the select committee makes a lot of sense, has my support in general, but I still think that that doesn’t quite answer all of the problems that we’re facing when it comes to gun violence in the commonwealth,” he said.

The recommendations also include starting a tip line for mental health and suicide prevention and a commission to study student mental health.