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Counseling, Crisis Response Focus Of School Safety Conference

Keynote speaker Carly Posey addresses the crowd at the 14th annual Arkansas Safe Schools Conference in North Little Rock.
Daniel Breen
Keynote speaker Carly Posey addresses the crowd at the 14th annual Arkansas Safe Schools Conference in North Little Rock.

Law enforcement and education officials from around the state are gathering in North Little Rock to discuss best practices for improving school security.

The 14th annual Arkansas Safe Schools Conference comes one week after the Arkansas School Safety Commission released its preliminary report on how to thwart and respond to threats of school violence.

The commission, formed in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., recommended each school have an armed security presence.

Dr. Cheryl May, director of the University of Arkansas System Criminal Justice Institute and chair of the state School Safety Commission, was in attendance at North Little Rock’s Wyndham Hotel Monday. May said she agrees with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s call for more counseling services to be made available to students.

"That's one of the things we, as a commission, are looking at as well. So it is critically important on so many levels," May said. "We also looked at behavioral threat assessments, and the issue for us is this is our preliminary report. This is not our final report."

Gov. Hutchinson has directed the Arkansas Department of Education to expand availability of school counselors through an existing state law.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Carly Posey, has been advocating for increased school security following the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Posey's son Reichen was in the first classroom entered by the shooter but escaped uninjured.

Posey voiced her support for Hutchinson’s call for greater accessibility to counseling services, saying the nationwide average of 482 students per counselor is far short of the recommended 250 to 1 ratio.

"Counselors… their jobs have become like paperwork, really," Posey said. "So kind of fixing that, it sounds like [the] governor has sort of a plan."

Later Monday, the state Legislative Joint Performance Review Committee met to discuss the Arkansas School Safety Commission’s recommendations. The commission is set to meet again July 26, with a final report due to the governor by the end of November.

Daniel Breen is a third-year undergraduate journalism student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.