Armed police personnel may be required at all Virginia public schools if legislation currently being considered by the General Assembly is approved.
Several bills before state lawmakers this winter propose the requirement, which says school boards must coordinate with local law enforcement to provide at least one School Resource Officer for each public school within the district.
In the state’s Senate, legislation is taking on a bipartisan feel as both Democrat Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Dist. 25) of Charlottesville, a former gubernatorial candidate, and Republican Sen. Richard H. Stuart (Dist. 28) of Montross are sponsoring similar bills. Funding for the added SRO requirements would fall to the state, according to the proposed bills.
In Fairfax County, full-time SROs are assigned to each of the school system’s 53 middle, secondary and high schools.
“To place an SRO at each of our 139 elementary schools would [cost] $20 million,” said Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre.
Of the 1,981 public school buildings in Virginia, 935 — or 47 percent — have either full- or part-time SROs stationed there. Most of these schools are middle and high schools, according to a state study. The average statewide cost of a new full-time SRO is $128,000. This estimate includes salary, benefits, operating costs and equipment. Costs would vary in different jurisdictions.
The state Department of Planning and Budget estimates a first-year cost of $133.9 million for the additional SROs, with ongoing costs at $72.2 million.
According to a survey of educators released this month, 65 percent of teachers polled said they favored having an armed police officer in schools. Only 4 percent of respondents said they favored arming teachers or principals with guns. Seven percent of respondents said security personnel were not needed in schools, according to the survey conducted by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, a local educator’s advocacy group.
“If it is decided that guns must be in schools, I would prefer only SROs to have them,” wrote one educator in the comments section of the survey. The educator added that the state should look beyond the one-SRO-to-one-school ratio and consider assigning SROs based on the number of students attending schools.
Others said in the survey that having an SRO in each school would only serve to make those officers the first target of potential shooters.
“If there is an armed guard in the school and someone wants to come in and shoot up the place, the first one they will take out is the armed officer and then we are back to where we are now,” wrote an educator.
The county school system conducted its own school safety survey in 2012. Under the 2012 Working Conditions Survey, some 12,406 educators, 85 percent of whom were teachers, responded to questions on school safety in the county. Of those respondents, 96 percent said their school environment is safe.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is also taking up the question of school safety by forming the School and Campus Safety Task Force, which includes members of the General Assembly, Department of Education, Department of State Police, criminal and juvenile justice services, university officials, educators and more.
The panel is examining security within the state’s nearly 2,200 public K-12 schools, colleges and universities. Recommendations from the task force are expected to be announced by the end of the month.