Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has signed a series of bills aiming to promote school safety in the wake of the December Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, which resulted in 26 deaths, included 20 children.
While the General Assembly’s session ended Feb. 23, the governor had until 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve, amend or veto bills previously passed by the state legislature.
New laws will take effect July 1 and include changes impacting both K-12 and higher education.
One bill --House Bill 1582--would allow hired security officers to carry firearms on school property, while preventing the State Board of Social Services from prohibiting daycare centers from hiring similar guards. This legislation, which was approved 34-6 in the Senate with amendments and adopted 81-18 in the House, could reflect views McDonnell expressed earlier this legislative season on school safety. During an interview Dec. 18, 2012 with WTOP radio, McDonnell said a serious discussion needed to be had on arming school officials.
“If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials [who] were trained and chose to have a weapon, [then] certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school,” McDonnell said during a regular appearance on the station’s “Ask the Governor.”
Beginning July 1, public schools will also be required to conduct at least two lock-down drills each year and undergo an annual school safety audit taken by a school safety audit committee, which will include a walk-through inspection. A standardized checklist provided by the Virginia Center for School Safety will be used during this audit. The bill -- House Bill 2346 -- was approved unanimously in both legislative bodies.
“FCPS already conducts physical safety audits for every school,” said the school district’s spokesman, John Torre. “The safety committee will be a modification of an existing process. FCPS already conducts a lock-down drill each year at every school. The bill will add one more drill to an existing program of drills.”
The governor’s pen also ensured the creation of a School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund and the Local School Safety Fund, which will include grants and loans for local districts to enhance facilities’ security (House Bill 2343).
Fairfax County school officials said it was too soon to say whether the school system would apply for money under these funds.