In Virginia, assaults in schools have dropped but suicides have increased

aheymann@vagazette.com

Recent data from school safety climate surveys show while assaults in schools have dropped in Virginia, the number of students committing suicide has risen.

This was discussed at a regional informational roundtable highlighting school safety efforts in Virginia, held Friday morning at the James City County Police Department. The panel was hosted by Brian J. Moran, the secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, with most of the information presented by Donna Michaelis, manager for the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety section at the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. School administrators and law enforcement officers Del. Mike Mullin and Sen. Monty Mason were in attendance.

Michealis said in 2016-2017, half of the threats of violence made were self-harm and 45 percent of those threats were towards others. The remaining five percent were both.

Also during 2016-2017, 96 percent of serious threats were prevented and of the 40 that still ended up occurring, 18 were suicide attempts. Of the 9,238 threats made, 928 were serious threats and 40 were carried out, which is less than one percent.

The main way Virginia approaches safety is through preventative methods. Michaelis said Virginia is the only state that requires threat assessment teams in the K-12 grade levels and only two other states require these for higher education.

Over the years, as violence in schools has gone down, the number of school resource officers in schools has gone up. Michaelis said while school resource officers contribute to this decline, they are not the only reason. She said both are due to an increased climate and structure of school safety in the Commonwealth’s schools.

“I can tell you Virginia has one of the most robust SRO programs in the nation,” Michaelis said. Virginia has had school resource officers since the 1950s but they became a big part of school safety in the 1990s. Michaelis said the VDCJ started offering school resource officer training in the mid-1990s.

Michaelis said that after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., she got hundreds of phone calls asking what the state does to protect its students.

Mullin also gave an update on the House Select Committee on School Safety, of which he is a member. The committee formed by Kirk Cox will not look at guns relationship to school safety, but will address concerns about mental health and bullying. Mullins said the committee has met once already and will meet 4-5 times total before giving recommendations on what laws to add, change or remove in November.

Want to learn more?

To learn more about Virginia’s school safety policies visit ww.dcjs.virginia.gov.

Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at aheymann@dailypress.com, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.

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