McDonnell announces School Safety Task Force

While the nation continues to mourn the horrific and senseless murders that took place at the hands of a lone gunman in Newtown, Conn., Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday announced a state plan to review school safety in Virginia at all levels and to identify statewide and locality, school division, college and university resource needs to ensure that we are doing everything humanly possible to keep our children, young people and educators safe while they are in the classroom.

The governor has asked Secretary of Education Laura Fornash and Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker to review recently submitted school safety audits with school superintendents and to identify any changes in procedures or additional resources needed in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

The governor also announced the establishment of a task force comprised of leading educators, public safety experts, local leaders and legislators to review school safety, including established policies and procedures, crisis and emergency management plans, threat assessment protocols, as well as to share best practices and identify resource challenges. This task force will also provide legislative and budget proposals to the governor to address any critical gaps or needs associated with safety and security in our schools and on our campuses.

Additionally, the governor announced the creation of a position within the Department of Criminal Justice Services dedicated to issues associated with school and campus safety. This School and Campus Safety Coordinator position originated as a recommendation from the Governor’s Domestic Violence Prevention and Response Advisory Board and will be funded using existing resources.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy, and to the teachers, first responders, and all others touched by the events of last Friday,” McDonnell said. “Unfortunately, Virginians have our own painful memories of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. Those memories will never fade, and our mourning of those losses continues.

“As a father, I cannot imagine the grief experienced by those in Newtown, Connecticut as they mourn the loss of their innocent children. As a parent whose daughter was locked down at Virginia Tech during the most recent shooting there that took the life of Officer Deriek Crouse, I acutely understand the desire for parents to know that their child’s safety is the top priority at all educational institutions at every level. As a sibling of a career teacher, the recollections of the heroism demonstrated by Sandy Hook Elementary School educators are a stark reminder to me that school personnel must be given all possible training, tools and resources to protect the children in their care. Just as public safety is the bedrock responsibility of government, the safety of our young people must continue to be the top priority in our schools and our campuses.

“While we all seek answers surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, it is incumbent upon me, as governor, to ask our experts to reflect upon and review our system. That is why I am calling upon a team to do just that in the form of this task force. Virginia must evaluate safety in our schools and ensure that we are providing our young people with the best opportunity to learn. Getting a quality education cannot happen if students and parents are worried about safety in the classroom. Experts in education and public safety will carefully review our process, procedures, laws and initiatives in order to determine how we can best identify safety and security best practices, review our state efforts and responses and support localities as they look to invest or reallocate resources to improve safety and security. It is our duty in state and local government to do everything we can to ensure our young people from kindergarten through college are able to learn and thrive in a safe and secure environment.”

An executive order providing more details about the task force, its mission and its membership will be issued later this week. The goal is to identify any needed funding or legislative changes that could be brought before the General Assembly before its veto session in March.

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