Arkansas School Safety Commission members will gather for their last meeting before submitting the first proposal to Gov. Asa Hutchinson Thursday at the Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock.
Due to the fact that members are spread out across the state, a Google Document was created — members can’t talk directly to each other because that constitutes a public meeting — to better communicate, have one central location to review and add potential recommendations that will possibly sent to the governor and to give the public a way to view the suggestions while insuring the committee’s transparency, according to Doug Bradberry, operations manager with the commissioner’s office at the Arkansas Department of Education.
The document, which currently has additions from all five of the subcommittees, can be viewed at www.docs.google.com/document/d/1QED4qTNOuzrhtycBSZ0IVYDD3z_iAjiNLN4zUP0vJU4/edit.
Bradberry told the Log Cabin Democrat Monday that the group will vote to either accept or reject the suggestions during its meeting Thursday.
Once that’s done, the information will be sent to Hutchinson.
Bradberry said the initial report is like a rough draft, that anything sent to the governor in the first report isn’t confirmed to remain in the final report, which is due in November.
“Everything here is not concrete,” he said.
On Feb. 14, 2018, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were fatally shot by an assailant during school hours at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
This event, on the cusp of several incidents through the years, forced state officials and others to reexamine school safety procedures — and other issues — including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
On March 1, Hutchinson announced the creation of a school safety commission made up of law enforcement, educators, parents, administrators and other professionals during a news conference in Little Rock.
Hutchinson said the commission — which includes Vilonia teacher John Allison — 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 incident.
He noted the importance of the executive branch in this time and its responsibility to look at the schools across the state — there are nearly 270, hitting close to 487,000 students total — to determine what is working, what isn’t, what can be done, what can be learned and more.
“This is an urgent matter,” Hutchinson said during the conference.
The commission — 18 members total — is made up of five subcommittees: law enforcement, mental health and prevention, safety and security, intel and communication and physical security and transportation.
“The law enforcement and security subcommittee was tasked with providing the commission suggestions to provide school districts available, viable, affordable, and palatable law enforcement and security resources to protect students, faculty, staff, administrators, and patrons,” the document states. “Understanding there is a difference between feeling safe and being safe, we believe true safety can only be accomplished with a paradigm shift, where we recognize and acknowledge the vulnerability of schools in today’s society.”
The document reads that after a careful study of previous active school shooter incidents, it was apparent that a, “rapid armed response, from within the school building, saves lives.”
“The faster a school shooter is engaged by armed responders the sooner the situation is halted; this directly translates to lives saved,” the document states. “Currently there are several options available for school districts to increase the armed presence in their schools’. Among these options are: school resource officers, retired law enforcement officers that have maintained their certification, and commissioned school security officers. Other options are being looked at but might require legislative changes. We believe suggestions below can immediately be implemented and will effectively improve safety in schools.”
According to the Google Doc, the physical security and transportation subcommittee is also referring its suggestions to the Advisory Committee on Academic Facilities to “conduct further research regarding security enhancements and physical security guidelines to help ensure student and staff safety in traditional and non-traditional public schools to possible inclusions in the final report in November 2018.”
ADE’s Bradberry said committee chair Brad Montgomery is hoping that by sending it for further review and taking the suggestions to the partnership fund — some schools don’t necessarily have the funds to do what needs to be done — recommendations will be put on a more level playing field.
The commission’s next meeting is June 28 and its first recommendation submission is due to the governor by July 1; the final report will be due Nov. 30.
A smaller group from the commission, also including Bradberry from ADE, traveled to school around the state to visit in-person.
Bradberry said they were able to ask a few questions during the visits, but have decided a better way to gather more information from the districts across the state would be to send out a survey with about 10 questions that vary anywhere from asking about school resource officers and their training to standard threat-reporting procedures.
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; Vilonia High School teacher John Allison; Rogers Fire Department Chief Marvin L. Burton; Lori Poston, a child and adolescent therapist from Jonesboro; Margaret Weiss, professor from UAMS Department of Psychiatry and the director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; parent Ricky Hopkins from the Prescott School District; Sterling Claypoole, professor in psychology at South Arkansas Community College and parent from El Dorado School District; and Marvell-Elaine School District Superintendent Joyce Cottoms.