Today, the ACLU of Virginia and 22 other organizations signed on to a letter by the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) to the Virginia House Select Committee on School Safety, calling upon the General Assembly and Governor Northam to address the Commonwealth’s school safety concerns by investing in supports and services to meet the needs and improve the health and welfare of students well before behavior reaches a point of violence. Rather than looking toward “hardening” our schools, Virginia policymakers must prioritize supporting and strengthening our students.
In a letter today to the House Select Committee on School Safety, which was also delivered to members of the House Appropriations Committee and Governor Northam, we joined LAJC and its partner organizations to offer detailed recommendations around four main school safety policies:
- Increasing school support staff, such as school counselors and nurses;
- Improving school policing accountability through tailored, mandated training for school resource officers on working with children and youth;
- Investing in positive school discipline and school climate programs and methods, such as restorative practices; and
- Broadening the accessibility of supports and services under relevant funding streams, such as the Children’s Services Act.
"We strongly encourage the House Select Committee, the General Assembly, and Governor Northam to make thoughtful investments in school safety initiatives by focusing most intently on the student supports that keep children and youth healthy and connected to their education, both academically and socially," stated the letter. "These types of investments pay long-term dividends toward increasing school safety and health for students, families, staff, and communities."
"Virginia tops the nation in referring students of color and students with disabilities to law enforcement," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastanaga. "It's more important now than ever for our elected officials to listen to students of color and respond to their needs in the ongoing discussion about school safety. School administrators can, and should, take a more holistic approach to improving school safety by investing in counselors, nurses, psychologists, and other support staff to create an inclusive school climate and reform our discipline systems."
"Rather than focusing solely on what makes school buildings more secure, policymakers should be asking what makes our students safer, healthier, and more connected to their education, and we already know many of the answers,” said Rachael Deane, Legal Director of the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “School counselors, nurses, psychologists, and other support staff play an irreplaceable role in students’ overall well-being. It’s time to lift the state’s funding cap on these positions and to invest in prevention, positive intervention, mental health, and trauma-informed supports. These approaches dramatically improve safety not just for students, but also for teachers, staff, and communities as a whole."