Amid school shootings, lawmakers are working to prioritize mental health and safety

RICHMOND, Va. – A Monday afternoon shooting at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa has parents, teachers and students even more on edge and legislators looking for solutions where mental health is a major focus.

The Iowa shooting killed two teenagers and injured a teacher. An 18-year-old man has been charged with the shooting.

The shooting, which occurred just before 1 p.m. Monday, occurred during an educational program called “Starts Right Here.” The program is a community partner with Des Moines Public Schools and helps re-engage students in the district who can no longer be in a school building due to behavior problems.

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

“You know, these are supposed to be our safe spaces. And this school in particular is one that the police work very closely with. And the school is designed to take the slack and help kids who need help the most , the ones who are not getting the services they need for various reasons. And for it to happen here is just going to have a terrible impact on the community,” said Sgt. said Paul Parisek.

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

The student’s parents said the student had behavioral problems that required a parent to attend school with their son.

During this session of the General Assembly, Virginia lawmakers look at legislation targeting mental health initiatives, disciplinary policies, gun laws, including safe storage of guns and ammunition legislation, and partnerships with law enforcement.

At an event Monday night, Governor Glenn Youngkin said his administration hoped to improve cooperation 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 all the schools. We got to most of them. I want to make sure schools have law enforcement there. It’s real important,” Governor Youngkin said.

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

While political parties are divided on possible solutions, funding and mental health programs have strong bipartisan support. This Wednesday marks Mental Health Advocacy Day at the Virginia State 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 teacher 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 of serving our children and helping them deal with many of the challenging issues they face and giving them these tools to empower themselves and uplift their community,” Bhagat said.

An event will be held Tuesday night at Martin Luther King Middle School in Richmond, in partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation and other nonprofits, including the CKG Foundation, to discuss mindfulness and mental health in schools.

There will also be a community discussion and book signing.

The event runs from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM and is free to the public.

Amid school shootings, lawmakers are working to prioritize mental health and safety

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