Tag Archive: School Safety

  1. Improvements to school lock-down drills in Virginia (Updated 2.20.20)


    School lock-down drills, also known as “Active Shooter Drills” have become nearly ubiquitous in public schools across the nation. While the intent of  lock-down drills is to prepare teachers and students to protect themselves if faced with an unimaginable dangerous situation, recent reports and statements from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association cite the traumatic effect these drills are having on some children and a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of these drills.

    Currently in Virginia, all public schools are required to perform at least four lock-down drills per school calendar year. Two bills focusing on improvements to school lock-down drill practices have made progress during the 2020 General Assembly session.


    2020 legislation to improve school lock-down drills 

    Delegate and high school teacher,  Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, patroned  HB270, which addresses parental notice of upcoming lock-down drills. Specifically, this bill requires every public school to give parents at least 24hours’ notice before conducting any lock-down drills. Defeated in committee during the 2019, this bill is incredibly important because it give families an opportunity to have conversations with their children about the purpose of these drills and respond to questions or fears kids may have about these active shooter drills.


    These lock-down drills impact not just high school students, but kindergarteners as well (and some children in public pre-k, too!) and it’s important to remember that 5 year olds and 17 year olds are at very different developmental stages. All children and youth require the support of their families or trusted adults to help them regulate their emotions. Giving families notice about a potentially scary event, allows families the opportunity to provide the emotional support all children need.


    Equally as important, Delegate Mark Keam-Fairfax Co, sponsored HB402, a bill that exempts Pre-k and Kindergarten students from mandatory participation in lock-down drills during the first 60-days of school.  In implementing this exemption,  Principals  at each relevant school  are given the option to 1) conduct teacher-only drills or other suitable training for pre-k and kindergarten teachers or 2) notify each parent of pre-k and kindergarten student at least five school days in advance of each planned lock-down drill and permit parents to opt their child out of participating in these drills during the first 60 days of school. Pre-k and kindergarten students will still be required to participate in each lock-down drills after the first 60 days of the school session.

    Update: Both bills successfully passed out of Senate committees this morning and are headed to the Senate floor. We were successfully able to get pre-k students added to Delegate Keam’s bill: HB 402. Thank you Senator Keam for making this important change. 

    The New School Safety Report, co-written by the NEA & AFT, and discussed during the Feb 13th Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education, a few recommendations include:

    1. Parents should be given advanced notice before a lock-down drill occurs.
    2. Drills must be age appropriate and should be coupled with trauma-informed instruction and mental health/counseling supports before and after such drills.

    These bills are both steps in the right direction. Let’s ensure that we are not doing more harm than good and protecting the emotional health and well-being of all our children.

  2. Budget Approved by General Assembly

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    What’s In It For Kids?

    This past Saturday was a busy day in Richmond with both the House and Senate tying up all of the loose ends of the 2013 Session and wanting to adjourn on time. Not to get lost in all of the last minute shuffling, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the many good things included in the budget conference report reflecting Voices’ priority issues. As advocates, you all played a tremendous role in these successes. The conference budget, now approved by the General Assembly, goes to the Governor.

    Early Care & Education

    • The conference budget restores over $1 million in cuts to home visiting programs, CHIP (Item 297 #2c) and Healthy Families (Item 343 #1c). CHIP of Virginia/Parents as Teachers ended up with $600,000 restored and Healthy Families with $550,000. These funds are critical to ensure statewide access to these evidence-based family strengthening and health care improvement programs.
    • Your tremendous outpouring of support for early intervention (Part C) services for babies and toddlers helped to secure $2.3 million in funding in the current fiscal year and $6 million to meet the shortfall next fiscal year. We are very thankful that the conferees agreed to support the Senate’s request of an additional $3 million on top of the Governor’s proposal of $3 million. Although there will still be a small shortfall, the additional funding will put programs in a much better position for next year. Item 315 #1c

    Children’s Mental Health

    • The conference budget included an additional $1.9 million in FY14 for children’s crisis response services and child psychiatry (Item 315 #4c). This total includes the $1 million added by the Governor and the $900,000 approved by the General Assembly. This amount is in addition to the $1.75 million included in the FY14 budget during the 2012 session that will continue to be awarded to the three regions currently funded, bringing the statewide total to $3.65 million.
    • The conference budget also includes funding for two training and awareness programs recommended by the Governor’s School Safety Task Force:
      •  Mental Health First Aid received $600,000 in FY14 (Item 315 #2c). Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a 12-hour interactive course that teaches the risk factors and warning signs and symptoms of mental health disorders to clergy, teachers, health professionals, and others.
      • Suicide prevention efforts received $500,000 in FY14 (Item 314 #3c). Funds will go to DBHDS to collaborate with several other state agencies for a comprehensive suicide prevention plan.

    Foster Care/Child Welfare

    • The conference budget provided funding to implement Voices’ bills on independent living, House Bill 1743/Senate Bill 863. These bills allow youth coming out of the Department of Juvenile Justice between ages 18-21 who were former foster youth to get assistance in independent living skills.  The funding is combined from CSA funds of $97,614 (Item 283 #1c) and DSS funds of $19,945 (Item 338 #1c) in FY14.

    Medicaid Extension

    • After lots of last minute twists and turns, Virginia now has a path forward to extend Medicaid to the 400,000 low-income Virginians who would be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The conference budget includes language allowing Virginia to move forward if DMAS adopts certain reforms, and gains federal approval of other reforms (Item 307 #20c). The budget creates a new commission, the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, with the authority to determine whether enough reform has been done to start the eligibility expansion. The House has named its members to the Commission: Dels. R. Steven Landes, R-Augusta, Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, John M. O’Bannon III, R-Henrico, Johnny S. Joannou, D-Portsmouth, and Beverly J. Sherwood, R-Frederick. The Senate has not yet named its members.
  3. Governor’s School Safety Task Force Update

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    This afternoon, Gov. McDonnell released the letter he sent to the General Assembly with recommendations from his Task Force on School and Campus Safety. Among his list of priorities are three recommendations about mental health: expanding suicide prevention training programs, expanding children’s outpatient services at community services boards, and expanding training in Mental Health First Aid. You can read the Governor’s Letter to the General Assembly here, including all the workgroup recommendations.

    The Task Force met for the second time yesterday, Jan. 31, to hear recommendations from each of the three workgroups – Public Safety, Education, and Mental Health. Many were adopted, while some needed further review.

    The Mental Health Workgroup made five recommendations, ranked in order of priority:

    1. Expand suicide prevention awareness and training programs
    2. Expand children’s outpatient services, including child psychiatry, at community services boards
    3. Train more individuals in Mental Health First Aid
    4. Add to the number of CIT law enforcement drop off centers for adults
    5. Expand adult outpatient services, including psychiatry, at community services boards


    The Public Safety Workgroup made a long list of recommendations, including increased sharing of juvenile records between the court and schools and colleges. The Education Workgroup also made several recommendations, including requiring lockdown drills in schools and funding anti-bullying trainings.

    The Task Force will continue its work until June 30, and many of the issues will be considered between now and then.

    Voices will continue to follow the activities of this Task Force and keep the public alerted. Opportunity for public comment to the Task Force still exists. To give public comment to the Mental Health Workgroup go here: http://www.dbhds.virginia.gov/SchoolSafetyTF-MHWorkgroup.htm. To provide comments to the entire Task Force, go here: http://www.publicsafety.virginia.gov/SchoolSafetyTaskForce/.