FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 8th, 2018
Contact: Hannah Cannon
Richmond, VA – Today, Delegates Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-72), Mike Mullin (D-93), and Jeff Bourne (D-71) respond to the release of priority recommendations of the Select Committee on School Safety. Since the convening of the Committee, these Delegates have continuously called for a student-centric approach to improve school safety. Their July letter encouraged initiatives regarding mental health care and behavioral health management within schools, categorization and control of security and discipline resources, and coordination between school systems and their local governments and local law enforcement agencies. Delegates VanValkenburg, Mullin, and Bourne called for a more concerted focus on state funding in order to combat the resource crisis facing schools in order to ensure long-term safety of our students and schools.
The first priority listed on Speaker Cox's release directs the General Assembly to realign the roles and responsibilities of school counselors. "I am glad to see that the Committee agrees with our push for school counselors to be able to spend the majority of their hours giving direct services to students," said Delegate VanValkenburg. "We continue to believe providing mental health services and adding school counselors and other professionals is the best investment for addressing the root causes of school safety issues. This is a step in the right direction toward achieving the 1:250 counselor-to-student ratio suggested by the American Association of School Counselors."
Six out of the two dozen priority recommendations fall under the category of counseling and mental health, an issue that will be broadly explored in the 2019 Session when the Deeds Commission presents its findings. "It is clear that the Commonwealth recognizes the need to seriously address mental health in our schools, which is the only place many students may ever receive that type of care," said Delegate Mullin. "We already know that we need more counselors, we know that we need to coordinate with our Community Services Boards to provide wrap-around care, and we know that trauma-informed training allows teachers to better teach their students."
The majority of these priorities only address a school's needs after violence has already occurred. "Recommendations regarding infrastructure are necessary to the continued health of our schools, but our call has always been to take a holistic approach to school and community safety," said Delegate Bourne. "We call on our colleagues on the Committee to continue to address the underlying factors of what makes our communities vulnerable to violence."
The Delegates thank Speaker Cox for his leadership of the Select Committee on School Safety and the list of priority recommendations released today. They look forward to the next meeting of the Committee to further address the needs of the Commonwealth’s schools. "These proposals are a good start, but our investments must be focused on comprehensively addressing the environmental and community-based reasons for why schools are unsafe in the first place. This should be the Committee’s priority,” said VanValkenburg.
The original July letter sent to Speaker Cox can be viewed here. An September editorial written by the Delegates can be found here. The next meeting of the Select Committee on School Safety will take place on Wednesday, November 14 in Harrisonburg following the House Appropriations retreat.