Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of a school safety commission compiled of law enforcement, educators and other professionals during a news conference Thursday.
Hutchinson said the Arkansas School Safety Commission — which includes a teacher from Vilonia —was created to address the increasingly serious problem in the U.S. and the state regarding school tragedies, which, he said, is at the forefront of every parent, educator and student’s mind in wake of the Florida school tragedy recently.
Hutchinson said he has committed to $300,000 to the Criminal Justice Institute for additional training for school resource officers and security assessments for schools.
He said it is important for the executive branch to quickly look at the schools across the state and analyze what is being done in terms of safety, what more needs to be done, what recommendations can come from this work, what has been learned from school violence in the past and what gaps need to be addressed.
“This is an urgent matter,” Hutchinson
He said the commission will look at a broad range of issues regarding safety including mental health —counselors being involved in the discussion — and looking at the architectural design of all buildings to see whether more can be done to provide a single point of entry to avoid easy access to provide greater protection.
“It’s also about prevention and response capability,” Hutchinson said. “It’s about coordination with law enforcement.”
He said the commission would go into schools to evaluate the schools designs, look at safety and security policies as well as emergency plans.
“This commission will report back to me with a comprehensive assessment of school security and recommendations for shoring up any gaps in security,” Hutchinson said. “Through research, interviews and school visits, the members of the commission will lead a statewide review and study that will guide us to establish and implement additional safeguards to protect Arkansas students from violence.”
The commission will make its first report back to Hutchinson on July 1 and the final report Nov. 30.
The commission includes chair Cheryl May, director of the Criminal Justice Institute; vice chair Bill Temple, Federal Bureau of Investigation retired special agent; Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Special Projects and School Safety Manager John “Don” Kaminar; ADE Director of Public School Academic Facilities Brad Montgomery; Arkansas Department of Emergency Management Director A.J. Gary; Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder; Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy Director Jami Cook; Clarksville School District Superintendent David Hopkins; Hot Springs High School counselor Dawn Anderson; and Vilonia High School teacher John Allison.
The Log Cabin Democrat reached out to Allison for comment but did not receive a reply by press time Thursday
. The LCD did speak with Superintendent David Stephens. Stephens said it’s always good to review and improve school safety. “I’m glad Vilonia is going to play a significant part in that,” he said. A representative from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office will also be on the commission.
“I really appreciate the governor’s leadership in this regard,” Rutledge said. “It is absolutely imperative as a state that we protect the children in our schools. School children must be safe to learn, teachers must be safe to teach and parents must know without a doubt that their children are safe when they are at school.”