Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

June 8, 2013

School safety — New Virginia laws welcomed

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed into law 12 logical and welcomed pieces of legislation designed to make Virginia’s schools and campuses safer.

McDonnell issued executive order 56 on Dec. 20, 2012, in response to the tragic slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The measure established a multidisciplinary task force to comprehensively review school and campus safety in Virginia. Locally, Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt served on the task force.

“It is so important that we are doing everything in our power to provide a safe learning environment in our schools and on our campuses,” the Republican governor said Wednesday. “With this legislation, we are continuing to make it a priority to protect our children and those who have taken on the responsibility of caring for them.”

The new laws provide for increased training and resources for educators, first responders, and mental health professionals in order to provide the safest school environment possible. McDonnell also has identified strategic budget investments to improve school and campus safety. This includes increased funding for school resource officers and mental health services such as psychiatric and crisis response services, mental health first aid training, and a comprehensive statewide suicide prevention program. The new laws include:

• HB1871, which defines “bullying” in the code of Virginia and requires each school board to include in its code of student conduct policies and procedures that prohibit bullying.

• HB1864, which clarifies a school may deal with school-based offenses through graduated sanctions or educational programming, unless a delinquency charge is filed after a school principal reports certain acts to the local law-enforcement agency.

• HB2343, which creates a special fund to provide grants to localities, subject to local match, for facility upgrades in order to improve security.

• HB2344, which requires each school superintendent to establish a violence prevention committee and threat assessment team similar to those required for Virginia’s public institutions of higher education. The legislation also provides that school systems must annually collect and report quantitative data to the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

• HB2345, which directs the Departments of Criminal Justice Services, Education, Behavioral Health and Development Services, and State Police to develop a model critical incident response training program for school personnel and those providing services to schools.

• HB2346, which requires each school division to designate an emergency manager to coordinate school preparedness within the division. It also mandates that schools conduct a lockdown drill once each semester.

• HB2347, which facilitates the sharing of juvenile law enforcement records by the principal of the school to threat assessment teams.

• SB1376, which expands current Virginia law by extending civil immunity to any person who reports in good faith, information that an individual poses credible danger of serious bodily injury or death to one or more students, school personnel or others on school property.

• SB0899, which authorizes local school divisions to place decals on the rear of school buses noting that the buses stop at railroad crossings.

• HB1609 and SB1342, both of which provides that the governing board of each public four-year institution of higher education shall establish written memoranda of understanding with its local community services board or behavioral health authority and with local hospitals and other local mental health facilities in order to expand the scope of services available to students seeking treatment.

No one wants to see a repeat of the April 16, 2007, shooting massacre that we witnessed on the campus of Virginia Tech. That’s why all of the above measures are prudent, and a necessary step, by McDonnell and lawmakers.

That’s why all of the above measures are prudent, and a necessary step, by McDonnell and the Virginia General Assembly.

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