'No Clear Answers' For School Safety in VA - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

'No Clear Answers' For School Safety in VA

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It has been almost eight months since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings shined a national spotlight on gun violence and school safety. All the while, Virginia's School and Campus Safety Task Force has been working on recommendations to keep students in the commonwealth safe. But one expert says there are no clear answers.

The group tapped VCU Criminal Justice expert Dr. William Pelfrey to review several pieces of potential legislation on their merit, in an attempt to point out issues and concerns.

One piece of legislation concerned arming and training regular school personnel to respond to potential conflict. It's an idea that was discussed at length in the 2013 General Assembly session, and ultimately killed. It's also an idea Pelfrey says could pose significant liability if implemented.

"One of the worst-case scenarios is a teacher intervenes in a situation and fires on an assailant, and unfortunately hits a student or another school employee," Pelfrey said.

Another bill seeks to place a full-time school resource officer (SRO), employed by local law enforcement, in every school in the commonwealth. In theory, Pelfrey says, it could curb potential violence, but it would cost far too much money to mandate.

"There are about 2,000 schools in Virginia, and a new police officer costs about $100,000," Pelfrey said. "So requiring 2,000 new police officers would cost Virginia about $200 million a year."

By comparison, Virginia's largest law enforcement entity - the Virginia State Police - costs $229 million annually to run.

But despite practical and financial constraints, Pelfrey says the state is moving in the right direction by striving toward increased safety for students.

"There's no clear answer, there's no single research study that says 'here's what a school can do to make itself safe, or to make a school board safe.' So we're going to have to try some different things and see what works," he said.

Governor Bob McDonnell signed 12 initial task force recommendations into law in early June. The group's final recommendations will go before lawmakers during the 2014 General Assembly session.

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