In accordance with his verbal directive on Monday, Governor Bob McDonnell issued Executive Order 56 today establishing a multidisciplinary task force to review school and campus safety in light of the horrific and senseless murders that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14. He has also established a separate mental health workgroup chaired by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel.
The task force will be co-chaired by the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Public Safety, and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources. Its membership will include representatives from state agencies, law enforcement, health care entities, public and private education systems and the private sector. These leaders and professionals will review information, discuss best practices and identify vulnerabilities in order to ensure that Virginia is providing the safest possible learning environment for our students.
Speaking about the tragedy at Sandy Hook and the establishment of the task force, Governor McDonnell said, "Like most Americans, especially parents with children, my wife and I sat in stunned and tearful disbelief at the unfathomable shooting of 20 innocent little children and their six educators in Connecticut last week. Even with raw emotions still running so high, it is prudent to begin to consider reasonable policy changes. Public safety is a primary responsibility of every level of government. In the aftermath of the horrific and senseless shootings, I have asked all local and state leaders that play a role in school or campus safety to review the procedures, plans, policies and resources dedicated to this effort.
"In our ever-changing environment, it is incumbent upon us to continue to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to provide a safe learning environment in our schools and on our campuses. We have an obligation to all students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff and every citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide a safe environment for those who seek a quality education and those who help us provide it.
"I have communicated with Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy to offer our sympathies for the loss of children, faculty and staff in this tragic event and its impact on the families, friends and community at large. In addition, both my Chief of Staff, Martin Kent, and the Superintendent of State Police, Steve Flaherty, have reached out separately to their counterparts in Connecticut to offer assistance based upon our experiences and multiple reforms connected with the tragic Virginia Tech shootings of April 16, 2007. I have directed today that all Virginia agency heads be ready to help their peers in Connecticut. This is a time to be fully supportive of our friends in Connecticut who are grieving deeply and to continue to learn how to make all schools as safe and secure as possible.
"I have ordered a detailed and thorough review of school and campus safety to identify areas of needed improvement and critical resource needs at the state, local, school division and college/university levels to ensure that we are doing everything humanly possible to keep our children, young people, educators, administrators and staff safe while they are in the classroom and on our campuses. We must also have a broader American conversation about personal responsibility, mental health, firearms safety, respect for human life and the need to improve conflict resolution to reduce violence in our society.
"The thoughts and prayers of the people of Virginia remain with the families forever impacted by this tragedy, and with the teachers, first responders and all others touched by the events of last Friday. While we all seek answers surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, it is incumbent upon me, as governor, to ask our leaders and experts to rationally and thoroughly review our system. We have already received some suggestions from qualified experts in public safety and education about ways we can increase safety in our classrooms. While we should be wary of undertaking any policy changes clouded by the expected emotions of anger, disbelief and deep sorrow we are all feeling following this tragic loss, it is incumbent upon our policy makers, educators, public safety experts and our citizenry to have an honest and thoughtful discussion and create an action plan concerning what measures can be implemented that will actually work to improve safety for our students. I look forward to the recommendations of these experts as they complete the responsibilities of the task force."
The task force shall commence its work promptly and send initial recommendations no later than January 31, 2013 so the General Assembly and I can consider them this session. The task force shall make additional recommendations on an ongoing basis and shall provide a final report on all aspects of the executive order to the governor no later than June 30, 2013, so that recommended actions can be implemented before the new school year begins.