James Sturch, Arkansas Senator
When it meets in special session the legislature will consider a $50 million grant program for school safety measures.
The governor proposed making grants available for schools that need financial help to implement recommendations made recently by the Arkansas School Safety Commission. Although its final report isn’t due until October 1, the commission has already released a preliminary report with a long list of recommendations.
The governor reinstated the commission after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. It was originally formed in 2018 after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The recommendations this year include providing more access to mental health treatment for students, more training in mental health treatment for staff and the creation of behavioral threat assessment teams. The teams would be composed of staff who are trained to recognize potentially violent responses when students get bullied or stressed.
A school resources officer who is armed should be on campus at all times. The commission specified that if financially practicable there should be an armed presence in each building.
In a 2019 survey, 79 percent of Arkansas school districts reported having an armed officer. However, only 20 percent had an officer on every campus within the district. The commission suggested that schools have an agreement with local law enforcement agencies to clarify the roles that school officers would have in the event of a shooting. School officers should receive specialized training, since their duties would bring them into constant contact with young people. Another recommendation is that schools should keep their doors locked all day. Doors that are frequently used should be equipped with electronic access controls.
Schools should have a master key to provide law enforcement in the event of a critical incident. Teachers and staff should be able to lock classroom doors from the inside, with access only for authorized personnel. Visitors to the school should come and go from only one entrance, and schools should have a procedure for escorting visitors.
Schools should have security cameras that can be monitored by designated personnel and local law enforcement. During emergencies, staff and teachers should have access to reliable communications such as intercoms, cell phones and two-way radios. Radio systems should connect with local law enforcement. The commission also plans to recommend setting up a statewide hotline for receiving confidential tips about potential threats. State government has a budget surplus of about $1.6 billion. The main issue during the special session will be a plan to accelerate the reduction of income taxes previously approved. When the tax cuts take full effect, they will save Arkansas families and businesses about $700 million a year.
A grant program can provide quick help with school safety measures that require money, such as electronic access controls on doors. The commission’s list of recommendations must be approved by the legislature to take effect. Also, the legislature will determine the rules for applying for grants. Since 1997 Arkansas has had six students and one teacher killed in school shootings. Also, 13 students, staff and teachers have been wounded.