ACLU Of Virginia Wary of Governor's New 'Partnership for School Safety' Program

May 10, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, May 10, 1999

RICHMOND — At a news conference today, Governor Gilmore announced a new “Partnership for School Safety” program in response to the tragic school shootings in Littleton. According to news reports, the governor is proposing a statewide hotline to encourage students to report suspicious activity as well as tactical training for school resource officers so they can respond to hostage situations.

While we have not had a chance to analyze the proposal in detail, it seems that once again the governor is looking to solve complex social problems through police tactics rather than prevention.

The governor’s proposal to teach school officials how to react to a school shooting situation makes sense, but it puts the focus at the wrong end of the problem. It would be better to place equal, if not more, emphasis on dealing with violence before it occurs.

Schools need to get better at identifying students who present a threat to the school and need to create more sophisticated evaluation and counseling systems to prevent violence before it takes place. The governor seems to be ignoring this important element altogether.

Turning students against each other by setting up an anonymous hotline is a recipe for disaster that is more likely to breed suspicion among students rather than uncover threats to school safety. The emphasis instead should be on training students to recognize true threats and to report them in a responsible way within the school system.

In fairness, however, we do think that these ideas are an improvement over the Governor’s earlier order to schools to turn over to police the names of all students who act “suspiciously.”

We urge the Governor to continue to improve his school safety plans and would welcome an opportunity to discuss with him and school officials solutions that are both effective and constitutional.

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