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Community Builders Legislation Unanimously Passes House of Delegates

House Bill 626, which would establish a pilot program in Roanoke City Public Schools and Petersburg City Public Schools designed to address the root causes of teen gun violence, unanimously passed the House of Delegates on February 13, 2024. The bill had previously been unanimously supported by the House Appropraitions Committee and the House Education K-12 Subcommittee.

The legislation, if signed into law, would establish and provide funding to support the implementation of a comprehensive "Community Builders" initiative to reduce youth involvement in gun violence, domestic violence and gang involvement. Specific areas of focus include summer and after-school experiences that build student capacity for success through workforce development, professional readiness, exploration of post-secondary educational opportunities, social-emotional development, and family engagement and empowerment.

Roanoke Del. Sam Rasoul, also the Chair of the House Education Committee, introduced the bill in partnership with Sen. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg, who introduced a Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 484.

"What we found is that there are actually very few programs that work through the schools," Del. Rasoul said. "We've seen many programs that work with the schools and with the students, but something that integrates through the summer school at the beginning is exciting, and we're hopeful that we can start to make an impact." 

Cohorts of rising 8th graders from the division's five middle schools would participate in five weeks of half-day summer programming. Students would also receive academic support through the division's RCPS+ program, ensuring students are provided with a full-day intervention. Programming opportunities would continue throughout the school year to keep participants engaged, motivated, and moving forward positively.

During summer months, when school is out and opportunities for engagement are limited, gun-related incidents often increase, which underscores the urgent need for effective interventions that address the root causes of teen gun violence and gang involvement. Community Builders is a tangible way to reduce these behaviors in collaboration with community partners, business partners, higher education institutions, and local legislators.

Community Builders is an extension of the division's existing Staying Safe by Staying Connected programming and, if successful, could become a model for school divisions across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Ahead of the House Education Subcommittee vote, RCPS Superintendent Dr. Verletta White and Constituent Services & Government Relations Officer Dr. Alan Seibert testified in favor of the bill.

"When you ask high school students, 'When did things start to go wrong?' many times they will point to the middle school level," Dr. White said. "We want to target our rising 8th graders and show them not only the detrimental effects of violence on a community, but their responsibility and how they can be community builders instead."

Follow House Bill 626 through the General Assembly's Legislative Information System to stay updated on its progress.