Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has formed a committee to look at ways to improve security for teachers and students at public schools across the state. The Arkansas School Safety Commission has been formed. It consists of 11 members that will look at several issues that can make up for a lack of armed resource officers in smaller schools. The first report will be due July first. Dr. Cheryl May is the director and will chair the commission.
“We very much look forward to be able to provide recommendations that will have a true impact on our schools,” said May.
The Governor committed 300-thosand dollars to the Criminal Justice Institute for additional training for school resource officers. School resource officers are in about one-third of the state’s schools. The state has 316 armed resource officers across the state. 13 school districts that do not have resource officers allow staff members who have undergone active shooter training to carry guns on campus. In Jonesboro, all of the public schools have resource officers. Westside Schools have a resource officer for every building, something that was approved shortly after the 1998 Westside School Shooting that killed five and wounded ten students. All of the schools in Jonesboro also have mental health professionals in the schools. Westside Superintendent Scott Gaunt gives his thoughts about the report.
“All of the things that he mentioned in his press conference, we have the ability to handle,” says Gauntt. “We are doing the mental health, we have student resource officers, but I am always curious to see what else is recommended. I hope that more money will be provided for additional resources.”
Jonesboro Superintendent Dr. Kim Wilbanks says the challenge with this report is trying to meet the needs of all schools in the state.
“If you talk to different superintendents across the state, you will find the needs are different,” says Wilbanks. “For a lot of rural districts that don’t have a mental health provider that might be their need. Other small schools that don’t have school resource officers see that as their biggest need. We are hoping for more funding to get more additional resources in all of those areas.”
Nettleton Superintendent James Dunivan.
“What I hope to see out of the report would be increased funding from the state so we could employ more school resource officers,” said Dunivan.
Valley View Superintendent Bryan Russell.
“The two key components that I would hope would come out of this would be additional training for our school resource officers and the mental health component for treatment for those who may need help,” said Russell.
The commission is expected to look at school designs, security policies and assessments, and mental health. The work of the commission will continue through November.