I’d like to pass on a brief report from the meeting of House Select Committee on School Safety that occurred Tuesday. As you may remember, I formed the Select Committee–Virginia’s first such committee in over 150 years–after the unspeakable tragedies that took place in Parkland, Florida. As a retired teacher, I know that we must always work harder at keeping our students safe in school.
On Tuesday, 58 recommendations were presented to the committee for consideration. These recommendations come after months of work, public meetings across the state, and hours of testimony from students, teachers, parents, and administrative staff.
The draft recommendations of the Select Committee are focused on three main areas. The first is counseling and mental health. Time and time again we heard from school counselors that they are bogged down with administrative tasks, leaving them little time to interact directly with students. To me, it’s simple–counselors should be counseling. One such recommendation is to have school hire additional staff to handle administrative needs, such as administering tests, so that guidance counselors can focus more of their time on direct face-to-face interactions with students.
The second focus area is training and preparedness. If we can train students, teachers, and administrators to identify, report, and de-escalate a situation before it reaches boiling point, we can avoid a crisis. This can be as simple as identifying a victim of bullying and knowing the appropriate, effective way to reach out to him/her and get them the support they need.
The third focus area zeros in on innovative and technology-driven security solutions. The technology of 2018 can–and should–help keep our schools safe. Some recommendations are as simple as wiring school security cameras into emergency communication centers so that first responders can see what is happening inside a school first hand. Other recommendations include a statewide crisis tipline mobile app where students themselves can report their concerns. This would be similar to the SafeUT mobile app in Utah that has been proven to be effective.
The full committee will meet again later this fall to adopt a number of these recommendations into our final report. Many will be introduced as bills during the upcoming General Assembly session for consideration by the full legislature. It is my hope that many will be passed into law as I know that they can help keep our schools safe.
I welcome your feedback on these recommendations. You can email me at DelKCox@house.virginia.gov or write to me at PO Box 1205, Colonial Heights, VA 23834. As always, I am here to serve you and our community.