Virginia School Safety Forum Brings Educators, Law Enforcement Together

Morgan Sweeney | July 27, 2023

(The Center Square) — More than 1,100 people registered to attend the 2023 Virginia School Safety Training Forum, which will address roughly 20 topics pertaining to school safety and student well-being.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and its Center for School and Campus Safety partner with several other organizations, including the attorney general’s office and the Virginia Department of Education, to put on the forum, now in its 22nd year.

In light of the school shootings that have occurred in recent years, the summit features dedicated workshops on active shooter incidents and training on how to work with school resource officers and certified law enforcement personnel assigned to schools.

The Center for School and Campus Safety, though designed to facilitate safer Virginia schools through training and other resources, cannot provide schools with SROs.

“Decisions about staffing in local public school divisions are made at the local level in conjunction with their local law enforcement agency,” Shellie Evers, supervisor for the center, told The Center Square. 

“Decisions about placing armed school security officers like civilian school employees or prior law enforcement officers are also made at the local level in consultation with … the local law enforcement agency,” Evers added.

Though Evers said there is no national standard for how many SROs a school should utilize, the National Association of School Resource Officers recommends that every school have “at least one carefully selected, specially trained school resource officer.”

Despite some well-known instances of school violence in the commonwealth, Virginia’s school safety rankings fare pretty well compared to other states. In a recent WalletHub study, Virginia placed seventh in the nation for school safety. Just last March, the General Assembly amended the Code of Virginia so that every commonwealth school is now required to complete an annual safety audit. 

In addition to emergency safety measures and working with SROs, this year’s summit covers many other specific subjects pertaining to student safety, such as youth suicide prevention and intervention and poverty’s impact on the brain.

“There is currently a strong focus on youth suicide prevention, intervention, and post-vention,” Evers said. The center is delivering a Suicide Prevention PSA campaign and sponsoring a statewide adoption of Handle with Care, a program to support traumatized children, Evers told The Center Square.

Other topics include trends in juvenile justice, youth drug and alcohol use and even Title IX.

According to Evers, school safety should be addressed with Title IX.

“Title IX has several implications for safety and [school] climate and also has legal ramifications for incidents that occur on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities,” Evers said. “Providing this type of training provides our participants with the information needed to avoid a violation and tools to protect students and mitigate harm.”

Attorney General Jason Miyares spoke at the conference on Tuesday, sharing how his office promotes safety and well-being among Virginia’s youth. Miyares’ office has been running a statewide campaign to deter drug activity called One Pill Can Kill, warning of the harm some of today’s illicit drugs, like fentanyl and xylazine, can cause.

The attorney general’s office is also revamping Virginia Rules, a program for middle and high school students designed to foster healthy relationships with the law and law enforcement.