Virginia gets school safety task force recommendations

Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington hosted a town hall meeting on school safety at Wakefield High School Wednesday. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Michelle Basch,

ARLINGTON, Va.- After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut last year, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell put together a task force to look for ways to improve school safety in the Commonwealth

Now, the initial recommendations of the Task Force on School and Campus Safety are in.

The recommendations, delivered to the governor Thursday, include requiring lock-down drills at schools and training for school resource officers, as well as expanding access to mental health services.

The task force also is interested in creating new criminal offenses for entering a school while armed with a weapon or explosive device with the intent to commit a violent felony.

Read the entire list of initial recommendations .

The task force will make more recommendations over the coming months, and deliver a final report by June 30.

“After (the shootings at) Virginia Tech, we pumped in a tremendous amount of money into our mental health program, but with the great recession that we’ve now come out of, we’re basically back at a place to where we were before Virginia Tech, and so we’ve cut a lot of things,” said Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington, a member of the task force.

“We anticipate there’ll be some initial recommendations that will go to the legislature is this session. This is our 45 day session, and we’re going to be in Richmond until late February. And so there’s some time to do some things and there happens to be a terrific amount of money – probably about $30 million – that the governor has set aside for things like this,” Hope added.

Wednesday, Hope hosted a town hall meeting about school safety at Wakefield High School in Arlington.

Cpl. Kyle Anderson is the school resource officer, or SRO at Wakefield. He’s an armed police officer who comes to the school every day, where he has his own office.

Arlington County Public Schools also trained civilians known as school security officers that help with school safety and security.

Anderson says kids feel comfortable with him.

“They don’t view me as a cop anymore…I normally have a vest on when I’m walking around, they obviously know that I’m a police officer, but they deal with me totally different than they deal with the cop on the street, and that’s the main role of what we’re here for is that we’re the connection.

“They come talk to me about stuff that has nothing to do with police work. I spend most of my time forging relationships with the kids, they’ll come talk to me,” said Anderson.

Anderson says school doors are kept locked, and visitors have to be buzzed in.

“Is it a foolproof system? No. But is a foolproof system putting me out there with a rifle? If someone’s going to want to get the element of surprise they’re going to be able to get that drop on me as well,” said Anderson.

One man at the meeting said he thinks school resource officers should be placed in every school.

“I cannot imagine what they would do all day at the elementary school level. I can’t imagine that’s a worthwhile use of funding,” said Beth Dowd, PTA president at Long Branch Elementary.

There also was a discussion about the possibility of allowing teachers to carry guns.

One audience member suggested if teachers with proper training were allowed to keep properly secured weapons at school, it might make a potential killer think twice.

Another man called the idea of arming teachers “a smokescreen by the National Rifle Association to try to head off gun control.”

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(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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