Virginia awarded over $17 million to create grants for safe and healthy student environments

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Courtesy of Keira Burton

Virginia was awarded $17,246,895 to develop school safety grants, the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced today.

The money was awarded from a nearly $1 billion batch of funds authorized under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) to create Stronger Connections grants, which are intended to help schools provide students with safe and supportive learning opportunities and environments.

The BCSA is an important first step toward reducing the risk of gun violence in our schools and communities, Cardona wrote in a letter to the chief education officers of the states and territories that were awarded funds.

Virginia Department of Education is now tasked with the job of developing state grant programs that fall in line with that mission. The funds must be awarded “competitively to high-need local educational agencies (LEAs), according to the guidance from Cardona’s office.

When designing grant programs that are considered competitive, recipients of the funding, such as VDOE, are “strongly encouraged” to consider three principles for using the funds:

1) Implementing comprehensive, evidence-based strategies that meet student social, emotional, and mental well-being needs; create positive, inclusive, and supportive school environments; and increase access to place-based interventions and services.

2) Engaging students, families, educators, staff, and community organizations in the selection and implementation of strategies and interventions to create safe, inclusive, and supportive learning environments.

According to Cardona’s guidance, these funds can be used to support school and community partnerships to prevent and respond to acts of bullying, violence, and hate that impact members of school communities at both individual and systemic levels.

3) Designing and implementing policies and practices that are responsive to underserved students, protect student rights, and demonstrate respect for student dignity and potential.

Cardona’s guidance says states and LEAs are encouraged to select developmentally and culturally appropriate and trauma-informed emergency training, security measures, and other schoolwide policies.

As states are developing their grant programs, they are also encouraged to focus on LEAs with high rates of poverty and with one or more of the following characteristics:

(1) a high student-to-mental health professional ratio;

(2) high rates of chronic absenteeism, exclusionary discipline, referrals to the juvenile justice system, bullying/harassment, community and school violence, or
substance abuse;

(3) where students recently experienced a natural disaster or traumatic
event.

“Safe and supportive schools help our children and youth overcome trauma and provide a strong foundation of emotional and physical safety. These grants will provide real benefits to real students in real schools,” said Cardona in the announcement.

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