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Fairfax County School Board moves to expand ban on firearms, citing rise in threats of violence

Fairfax County Public Schools intends to prohibit guns from all properties that it owns or leases amid heightened concerns about the safety of students, staff, and elected officials.

The Fairfax County School Board agreed unanimously at a work session yesterday (Tuesday) to direct Superintendent Scott Brabrand and his staff to develop a draft policy for its governance committee to consider at its March 1 meeting.

Firearms are already banned from public and private school grounds in Virginia, but this policy would take advantage of a measure approved by the General Assembly in 2021 giving local school boards the authority to also designate administrative buildings as “gun-free zones.”

Laura Jane Cohen, who represents Springfield District on the school board, proposed adopting the ban with Providence District Representative Karl Frisch, saying at the work session that she believes it should “happen sooner rather than later” in light of “some of the threats many of us have gotten.”

“We’ve seen a huge uptick in the last year and a half of people who are targeting elected officials and threatening violence,” Cohen told FFXnow. “So, that’s certainly part of the impetus, to make sure that people are not allowed to bring firearms into the places where we’re having our meetings.”

While narrow in scope, the potential ban would include the Gatehouse Administration Center, which houses FCPS central offices and other facilities used by the school board and division staff.

Public school officials across the country have reported encountering increased hostility over the past couple of years, as topics like pandemic-related health protocols and critical race theory have become hot-button political issues.

The Justice Department moved in October to create a task force focused on threats of violence against school boards and administrators.

Cohen is one of five Fairfax County School Board members targeted for recall over the decision to close schools for much of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she doesn’t believe the threats she’s received are related to that campaign.

“It seems to really span the gamut…CRT or masks or…any number of things, just the fact that there are Democrats on the board,” Cohen said, noting that she often sees an uptick in harassment whenever she expresses support for the LGBTQ community or discusses gun violence prevention.

She says the threats have come over email, social media, voicemail, and even by letter. Most of them get sent to the FCPS Safety and Security Office, though a few have risen to the level of getting reported to the police.

“I wouldn’t say I’m by any means the only board member targeted, but it’s definitely made a real impact in my life and my family’s lives for sure,” she said.

The proposed gun prohibition is similar to an ordinance that Fairfax County adopted in 2020 after the General Assembly granted local governments the option to ban the possession of firearms on their public properties.

In accordance with state law, the policy will have exceptions for current and “qualified” retired law enforcement officers.

The school board also directed Brabrand and his staff to evaluate FCPS’ curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development practices related to gun violence and suicide prevention, building off of an effort to notify families about Virginia’s secure firearm storage laws.

Board members said a review is needed to ensure the school system’s security threat assessments, staff training on procedures for reporting concerns, and other policies are updated and effective in the wake of surging gun violence in schools, citing the Nov. 30 school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan as a relevant example.

“It’s always been an issue, but it is frankly coming back to the top of the list of concerns in our community,” Brabrand said. “What can we do beyond what we’ve done in the years past to be more proactive in getting the awareness out to families and students?”

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