Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, wore a "Stop Gun Violence" button on his lapel as he listend to several colleagues speak about the deadly school shooting in Florida, while the Virginia House of Delegates met at the State Capitol in Richmond, VA Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.

There were more than 9,000 threats made at Virginia schools last school year, almost 2,000 more than the prior year.

The issue of school safety has again come to the forefront of national attention after 17 people were killed at a South Florida high school Wednesday, allegedly by a former student. Virginia’s schools have taken on more preventive efforts since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.

All public schools are required by state law to conduct school safety audits. According to data from last year’s audit, 9,238 threat assessments were conducted at Virginia’s K-12 public schools. In 2015-16, that figure was more than 25 percent lower at 7,298.

The vast majority (98 percent) of threats in Virginia involved current students, with just over half of the threats being against other people, according to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ 2015-16 report, the latest full report available.

In the threats involving current students, 9 percent, or 657 cases, were classified at the highest level and less than 1 percent — 56 total cases — resulted in the threatened act being carried out, according to the report.

“We’re just surrounded by this issue,” said Dewey Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist and education professor at the University of Virginia. Cornell also serves as director of the U.Va. Virginia Youth Violence Project.

The full 2016-17 report has yet to be published, but the total number of threat assessment cases was provided to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Thursday.

In Florida, Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in Wednesday’s shooting, which also left more than a dozen people wounded. The local sheriff’s office said Cruz used an AR-15 assault rifle to kill and wound teachers and his former peers. He was reportedly a member of a white nationalist group who had been expelled from the school.

This year — all 1½ months of it — has seen six school shootings with 62 people being injured or killed, according to Education Week. There’s been a school shooting in Los Angeles and one in Philadelphia. The small city of Benton, Ky., was the site of a school shooting in which two were killed and 18 others were injured.

A statistic that came out immediately after Wednesday’s shooting, that it was the 18th school shooting in 2018, is misleading because it is based on all incidents of gunfire, including suicides and times when gunfire didn’t hit anyone.

Less than 24 hours after the Florida shooting, Richmond Public Schools assistant principals gathered in Huguenot High School for previously scheduled training on how to stop bleeding in situations like a school shooting.

The Richmond Ambulance Authority and VCU Health gave bleeding-control equipment to 35 city schools. The equipment, which consists of tourniquets, bandages and specially treated gauze dressings, is aimed to help with blood clotting and bleeding control.

“We want to make sure that if we ever have to encounter such an incident, or just some emergency thing that may happen … that we’re able to appropriately respond,” said Michelle Boyd, the division’s assistant superintendent of exceptional education and student services, before the training started.

The assistant principals practiced applying tourniquets and stopping blood loss from fake injuries.

“The people inside the schools become the first responders,” said Chip Decker, the CEO of the Richmond Ambulance Authority.

Virginia schools have increased their threat preparation since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people. The state’s colleges were mandated to take more preventive action in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting.

In response to Sandy Hook, Virginia became the first state in the U.S. to mandate student threat assessment in public schools. Schools undergo active shooter drills and have plans in place for emergency situations.

The same was true for the Florida high school, which was planning an active shooter drill in the next few weeks, CBS News reported, and took common security steps like locking school doors. Teachers had been warned about Cruz, who had been expelled for disciplinary problems and was not allowed on the 3,200-student campus with a backpack.

Still, at least 17 people are dead, leading many to question how to stop future school shootings.

“No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school,” President Donald Trump said Thursday. “No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning.”

Cornell, the U.Va. expert, said more prevention-oriented work can be done rather than active shooter drills, which are considered reactionary.

Others, including some in the Virginia General Assembly, have again called for more gun control.

“How are we free when our teachers are having to teach students mass shooting defense practices as if it’s as normal as saying the Pledge of Allegiance?” said Del. Cheryl Turpin, D-Virginia Beach, on the House of Delegates floor Thursday. The teacher continued: “How are we free when children go to school in the morning but don’t come home?”


(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Staff writer Graham Moomaw contributed to this report.

Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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