Working to Keep Schools Safe

School safety has been on the minds of many recently. As I’ve traveled the Ninth District, constituents have frequently approached me to discuss this topic.

For our communities, schools are at the center of their life. Therefore, I believe the most important decisions regarding them should be made by the community. It would be neither appropriate nor helpful for the Federal Government to impose one-size-fits-all solutions from Washington.

But there are things Congress can do to be helpful. I’ve been talking with educators throughout the Ninth District to better understand their concerns. On May 1, for example, I met with school board members, administrators, and law enforcement officials in Bristol to hear their thoughts and discuss school safety grants.

Among the attendees at the Bristol meeting was state Delegate Israel O’Quinn, who has been one of the leaders at the state level to improve school safety. He is part of the Virginia House Select Committee on School Safety, which is charged with looking broadly at the matter and offering recommendations for possible state legislation.

Notably, it’s the first select committee formed in the Virginia House in 155 years. That’s how important this issue is. Members of the committee have been visiting schools and consulting with school and law enforcement officials to come up with solutions. I look forward to the results of their deliberations.

In Congress, I’m committed to supporting legislation that would make a difference in better protecting our schools. In March, I voted for the STOP School Violence Act, which would authorize funding efforts to prevent violence and improve school security. If enacted, it would provide grants to support local jurisdictions as they decide how best to protect their schools.

I’ve cosponsored other bills that would help school safety, and I hope they advance. H.R. 5332, the Student and Teacher Safety Act, would let state and local educational agencies use existing federal grant money to make physical improvements or support programs that improve school safety. H.R. 5242, the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, would study the deployment of School Resource Officers (SRO) across the country to better understand how these officers are used.

We can also make great strides in ensuring school safety by improving mental health care, especially for young people. Early intervention and treatment for young people afflicted by mental illness is essential in attempting to prevent possible violent tendencies they may have, as well as improving their quality of life.

This is an issue I am working on in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over these policies. Throughout my time in Congress, I’ve pushed for more funding and better coordination of mental health services.

This work paid off when some mental health care reforms were incorporated into the landmark 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in 2016. Among other things, this bill established an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and authorized grants for states and local governments to strengthen community-based crisis response systems or databases of beds at facilities. Moving forward from the passage of Cures, Congress still has the responsibility to oversee its implementation and to consider what parts of that law are working and what parts aren’t.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), also enacted in 2016, contained mental health reforms we worked on in the Energy and Commerce Committee as well.

Still, we need to go beyond these bills. I will continue to urge action on mental health, including more funding and improvement in services.

Among my other meetings on the issue, a discussion in the Norton-Wise County area helped me understand an especially sensitive matter at the intersection of mental health and school safety. Schools now can refer a student for mental health evaluation, but they are told nothing unless the student poses an immediate threat.

Should schools receive more information? Altering this policy would mean dealing with delicate privacy questions, but I think we can find a solution that respects privacy while helping schools better protect their students.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.