The Arkansas School Safety Commission meets again at the State Capitol today

Amid growing pressure in other areas of Arkansas education — namely, the call to pay state teachers a living wage instead of implementing even more tax breaks for the wealthy — the Arkansas School Safety Commission met today at the state Capitol. The commission was created in 2018 and ordered to reconvene in a June 10 order from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, which cites the shooting of Uvalde, Texas, as a reason to reassess the state’s preparedness. to counter school shooters, saying “it is crucial that the state stay informed of the state of school safety and ensure that school districts are properly equipped to prevent tragic events such as the one that has is produced in Uvalde.(Or, you know, the people we elected to keep our children safe could pass sensible gun control legislation.)

From Asa Hutchinson’s Order to Reconvene Arkansas School Safety Board

“Commission members will review the Commission’s final report in 2018,” the governor’s office said in a June 10 statement. “They will update the safety analysis of K-12 schools statewide with consideration of the physical and mental health of students. The Commission will identify any new school safety best practice recommendations that have developed since 2018.”

Chairman of the Arkansas School Safety Commission Dr. Cheryl May said in the opening: “When we talk about school shootings, one of the things we realize is that we haven’t been immune.” She referenced the tragic Westside school shooting in 1998 “and how awful it was as a state. And there are three more that have happened since that time. … We had two shootings in 2019, including one in Prescott, … 8th graders, 14, one pulled out a gun and shot the other. The student was injured but survived.

“In April, another 14 year old went into the Concord School District bathroom and ended his life with a gun, then in 2021, and it was a 14 year old and a 15-year-old, was the Watson Chapel incident. May noted a report on the timeline of events during the Uvalde shooting that “does not bode well”. She underscored the need to maintain a security-based policy focused on Arkansas and cautioned against generalizations based on the much-deplored actions of law enforcement in the May 24 Uvalde shooting.

The commission followed up with some details from Uvalde, including harrowing reports that a law enforcement officer in Uvalde positioned to intercept the shooter did not, and that subsequent action by police n did absolutely nothing to prevent the active shooter from murdering 21 people – 19 school children and two teachers.

So what does the Uvalde tragedy portend for schools in Arkansas? Theories abound, ranging from the need for foot patrol officers to locked-door policies to ballistic shields, security audits, and officer training akin to Texas State University’s currently announced ALERRT program (and used in certain districts of Arkansas) as an antidote to active shooters. You can expect a lot of obfuscation as lawmakers beholden to a bloated gun lobby try to reconcile these devastating stories with that infuriating old party line: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It certainly didn’t work in Uvalde.

“So it was an hour and twenty minutes ‘did the police have to intervene?’ May asked. The unlocked doors of the school at Uvalde were mentioned, an access point which members of the commission later recognized as being “a double-edged sword”. “They were creating a culture where it was okay to keep the door open,” May said.

Dr. Cheryl May

“Officers who are trained here in Arkansas are trained in a totally different way,” a law enforcement speaker said. “One thing that strikes me is the lack of control. …You need a solid leadership platform during a critical incident. More importantly, he said, officers need to “feel independent in making that decision during critical incidents.”

“The priority alert is to stop killing”, Hot Springs Police Department Chief Chris Chapmond said. “Everything else becomes secondary.” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge waxed that “the greatest tragedies bring the greatest lessons”, again announcing the need for training of the type that the ALERRT system offers. Some of those “lessons” and so-called “campus hardening,” the chat said, would fall to teachers and other school employees, who would likely be the first line of defense against an armed intruder. (What was it like to reform the lowest teacher salary in the state again?) “There should be a grading system that not only indicates what [a school’s] school performance,” said a board member, but the level of safety rigor that this school adheres to.

You can also expect further evaluation, investigation, and solicitation of “suggestions and recommendations” from the commission. A 2022 assessment of Arkansas’ readiness to combat school shooters is coming later this year, with an interim report due to Governor Hutchinson on August 1 and a final report due in October.

The commission will meet again on Tuesday, July 19, May said, with representation from the congressman French hills office on federal grants that could fund additional safety training in Arkansas schools. The ALERRT training system, it should be noted, is provided free of charge by Texas State University, but May cited any funds obtained with grants could be used for “metal detectors, locks and lighting, coordination with law enforcement. May said Arkansas has been lagging in federal aid for school safety measures — that those state school awards so far have been “very low.” Hot Springs and Danville were cited as two districts that had hired grant writers to apply for school funding of all kinds, though not all school districts in the state have this resource available to them. “Sometimes it is difficult to find staff to devote to this,” said a member of the commission.

Also speaking at future meetings: Marvin Burton, Principal of the Little Rock School District and a group of students from Arkansas.

Don’t forget, May said, the other threats Arkansas schools face alongside the threat of gun violence: identity theft, ransomware, cybersecurity threats.

Dr. Laura Dunn, director of the Institute for Psychiatric Research at UAMS, asked about steps to be taken to address the mental health of students and school employees after an incident occurred. No data was provided for Arkansas. “Sometimes the type of response matters,” Dunn said. “Everyone wants to help, but we want to make sure it’s appropriate.”

There is an email address, May said, where public feedback on school safety measures will be taken. This is [email protected] Members of the Arkansas School Safety Commission are listed here.

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