Right now, Virginia lawmakers are trying to find ways to keep kids safer in schools.
One effort is through the work of a bipartisan group of delegates.
The 21 lawmakers — 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — have been tasked with reviewing state and local policy on school safety and making recommendations for consideration by the General Assembly during the 2019 Session.
The group will specifically focus on things like strengthening emergency preparedness, deploying additional security personnel and developing prevention protocols.
The committee will not discuss issues related to guns or broader behavioral health policy that are being considered by other commissions or standing committees.
Since the select committee launched in March, lawmakers have been visiting schools across the commonwealth to see firsthand what improvements can be made.
On Tuesday, Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William) toured Vernon John Middle School, Petersburg High School, Carter G. Woodson Middle School and Hopewell High School.
Torian, a member of the select committee, was joined by Del. Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell) and Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg).
“When students recognize that they are in a safe environment, it enhances the learning opportunity,” said Torian. “And they’re less distracted by the vulnerabilities of being at risk.”
Torian’s first stop of the day was Petersburg High School, which was built in 1974.
“Obviously with the facility being built back in 1974, and this is 2018, there are some vulnerabilities and we wanted to learn what were the exposures and what were the vulnerable areas here,” he said.
Torian complimented the staff and security personnel for creating a secure environment, despite the aging building.
Aird said, after touring Petersburg High School, the most noticeable need is additional staff and less strain on school resource officers.
“I think that is worse than having a lack of cameras or the infrastructure in place,” she said. “Having someone to respond immediately during a public safety incident is critical.”
At Hopewell High School, Ingram said his main concern is securing all access points.
“I think that it’s our job to do everything within our power to make sure that the kids are safe,” he said.
Ingram said it’s important for lawmakers to actually visit the schools because their recommendations will carry a big impact.
“We’re the one that does a lot of the funding for the schools,” he said.
Ingram pointed out House-led efforts in the past like successful legislation allowing school systems to hire retired police officers for school security and creating a fund targeting upgrades to school security like hallway cameras and buzz-in systems.
How gun laws play into school safety has been a hot topic in Virginia and across the country, but it will not be part of the select committee’s work.
However, the debate will make its way to the State Capitol soon.
A National School Walkout protest is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
Local students have gotten permission to hold a rally on the steps of the Capitol.
A Facebook invite for the event says students will be walking out of school at 10 a.m. “in protest of the government’s inaction and inability to address school shootings and gun violence.” After a pre-rally at Brown’s Island at noon they will make their way to Capitol Square.
They said not enough was done during the last General Assembly session when it comes to guns. That’s why they are spending the next several months trying to come up with solutions to present during the next session.
Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) and Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax) will co-chair that task force.