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In light of school shootings, legislators work to prioritize mental health, safety

Posted at 11:26 PM, Jan 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 04:19:14-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A shooting on Monday afternoon at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa has parents, teachers and students even more on edge and has lawmakers searching for solutions with mental health being a huge focus.

The shooting in Iowa left two teens dead and a teacher injured. An 18-year-old man has been charged with the shooting.

The shooting, which happened just before 1 p.m. on Monday, happened at an education program called "Starts Right Here." The program is a community partner with Des Moines Public Schools and helps reengage students in the district who can no longer be in a school building due to behavioral issues.

The school uses art, music and other programs to help students break down barriers and build coping skills.

"You know, these are supposed to be our safe spaces. And this school in particular, it's one that the police department works very closely with. And the school is designed to pick up the slack and help kids who need help the most, the ones who aren't getting the services that they need for a variety of different reasons. And to have it happen here is, it's just going to be a horrible impact on the community," Sgt. Paul Parizek said.

Across the country, states are searching for ways to keep children and teachers safe. The heightened attention to school safety comes in light of a shooting at Richneck Elementary School, the Newport News elementary school where police say a 6-year-old student shot and injured his teacher.

The student's parents said the student has behavioral issues that required a parent to be present in the school with their son.

During this General Assembly session, Virginia lawmakers are looking at legislation that is aimed at mental health initiatives, disciplinary policies, gun laws, including safe gun and ammunition storage legislation, and partnerships with law enforcement.

At an event on Monday evening, Governor Glenn Youngkin said his administration was hoping to enhance partnerships with law enforcement.

"Last year, one of my big initiatives was to make sure we had school resource officers in every school. We didn't get to quite every school. We got to most. I want to make sure that schools have law enforcement presence there. It's really important," Gov. Youngkin said.

While political parties are split on possible solutions, mental health funding and programs have strong bipartisan support.

While political parties are split on possible solutions, mental health funding and programs have strong bipartisan support. This Wednesday marks Mental Health Advocacy Day at Virginia's Capitol. Educators like Ram Bhagat hope to shift the focus to improving children's mental health, especially in communities where poverty and violence are present.

Bhagat is a retired educator at Richmond Public School who started a program aimed at teaching mindfulness, conflict resolution, cultural sensitivity, and restorative justice in schools.

"With the main goal being to serve our children and help them deal with a lot of challenging issues that they face and give them these tools to use to empower themselves and uplift their community," Bhagat said.

On Tuesday night, an event will be held at Richmond's Martin Luther King Middle School in collaboration with the Holistic Life Foundation and other non-profit groups, including the CKG Foundation, to discuss mindfulness and mental health in schools.

A community discussion and book signing will also take place.

The event will be from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and is free to the public.

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