Gov. McDonnell CreatesTask Force to Evaluate Safety in VA Schools

Posted: Updated: Jan 11, 2013 03:49 PM EST

The December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut has turned the topic of school safety into a daily discussion.

Now, Governor Bob McDonnell has put together a task force charged with finding the best ways to ensure the safety of Virginia students and educators in their classrooms. 

The 45-member group is made up of state and local leaders, lawmakers, public safety experts, mental health professionals, educators, parents and students. The group also includes some experts from central Virginia.  

Charlottesville fire chief and Staunton police chief are both group members.

"What I bring to the table is an idea and information expertise as far as safety in general in all aspects of exiting the building," said Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner.

"Twenty-nine years of police experience in a variety of settings," said Staunton Police Chief Jim Williams of what he brings to the group.

Superintendent of Louisa County Schools also provides her expertise.

"I hope I can bring to bear the Louisa experience, and perhaps that can generalize to what other school divisions have experienced," said Superintendent Dr. Deborah Pettit.

The task force will be charged with reviewing information and pinpointing possible weak spots, to make sure something of Sandy Hook's magnitude does not happen in any Virginia public schools.

"When you look at the pictures of those people come across the screen, these poor little children, and try to put yourself in the place of these parents, you just think, there's gotta be something we can dom," said Williams.

"What's really important about this is we have the opportunity to do our best to create a safe environment for the children when they're in school so they feel safe, and their parents have the peace of mind they're safe when they're in school," said Werner.

The group's first meeting is slated for January 14 in Richmond. 

For Pettit, it's not only a chance to make a difference with her ideas, but also an opportunity to learn from a wide range of experts. "To me, whenever you put a group of people together and hear from the different perspectives, the results are going to be richer," said Pettit.

The task force is slated to offer its initial recommendations by the end of January so the General Assembly can consider them this session.