Sarah Roderick-Fitch | May 16, 2023
(The Center Square) – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has announced a grant program to improve student safety by beefing up security infrastructures in schools of higher needs.
The Stronger Connections program is a $16.4 million competitive grant program aimed at improving school security to curb assaults on schools, which may be vulnerable to attacks.
The grants will offer funding to purchase advanced security equipment and systems – including threat detection technology, and improve communications in the event of emergency crises. Additionally, grants can be used to analyze data for threat assessments.
The Virginia Secretary of Education, Aimee Rogstad Guidera, emphasized implementing a multi-pronged approach to “hardening” softer targets, such as schools, through the use of technology in analyzing potential threats.
“Schools have diverse needs, and the Stronger Connections grant program supports a wide array of strategies and tactics, from ‘hardening the target’ through the installation of updated security and surveillance systems to comprehensive planning to develop division-wide approaches for assessing threats and improving learning climates,” said Rogstad Guidera.
The funds may also be used to fund resource officers in schools without officers currently assigned – creating a visible, physical presence aiding to a safer learning environment.
Youngkin highlighted the need for students and teachers to feel safe in an effort to prosper in the classroom.
“We know students learn best when they feel safe in their classrooms, and when teachers are able to focus on the academic needs and wellbeing of their students,” he said.
The governor applauded Virginia’s leadership in promoting school safety but underscored the need to strive to provide safer environments conducive to learning.
“While Virginia has long been a leader in school safety with regular threat assessments and security audits and annual state grants for school security equipment, the events of the school year now coming to a close remind us that we need to do more to protect our students and the educators to work every day to prepare them for success,” Youngkin said.
The program will prioritize schools with a higher rate of low income students, schools in rural areas, and schools with higher student-to-staff ratios of counselors, psychologists, and social workers and at higher risk of chronic absenteeism and violence.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons hopes the program will promote a better atmosphere for learning, allowing teachers and students to focus on the mission – education.
“I believe,” Coons said, “that the Stronger Connections grant program will make a real difference in the lives of our teachers and students by supporting improvements that will them to focus their attention and teaching and learning.”
Applications for the Stronger Connection program will be available to schools beginning June 1, with an Aug. 1 deadline. The Virginia Department of Education plans to announce the awards in the fall.