The Arkansas School Safety Commission presented its preliminary assessment which included school safety recommendations to Gov. Asa Hutchinson during a press conference Tuesday at the state capitol.
The commission, made of 18 law enforcement personnel, educators, parents and other professionals, was established by Hutchinson March 1, 2018 following the shooting that killed 17 and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 in Florida.
The Arkansas governor signed an executive order tasking members with the responsibility to study and analyze the physical and mental safety of the more than 260 K-12 schools across the state; to look at the architecture of buildings as it related to the safety of its students and staff which included the prevention and response to active shooter threats; and to make recommendations regarding findings and improvement to Gov. Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Education needed to increase school safety.
In addition, school site visits were required as well as talks with school resource officers, principals, counselors and more to gain a better understanding of each school’s specific situation.
The 18 commission members were then placed into subcommittees: law enforcement and security; audits, emergency operation plans and drills; intelligence and communications; mental health and prevention; and physical security and transportation.
Each committee looked at specifics in its area but included topics like emergency plans, communication strategies between a district and its parents, identification of potential threats, mental health awareness in schools and student access to services and other prevention methods, exterior and perimeter lighting, landscaping and locks on doors.
The commission’s findings — the report is a total of 39 pages — are extensive and cannot be listed in completion but the Log Cabin Democrat will acknowledge a few here.
From the audits, emergency operation plans and drills subcommittee deemed it essential to build a “culture of preparedness and keeping school staff and children safe” by developing a high quality emergency operations plan that assists schools in preparing for and responding to school-specific active threats in addition to conducting annual active shooter drills and safety assessments.
The commission also recommended all districts be required to form district safety and security teams made up of teachers, nurses, first responders, and more to create a strong partnership with the district and local first responders.
“Each campus should also designate one current staff member as a School Safety Coordinator,” the report reads. “The Campus School Safety Coordinator should also be a member of the District’s Safety and Security Team.”
The Communication and Intelligence Subcommittee looked at effective forms of communication and gathering of information o minimize risks of school violence.
“Communication between key stakeholders is essential,” the committee’s report states. “A well-established communication plan ensures essential information is shared and reduces confusion. The Commission recommends that each school district support, establish, and maintain a comprehensive, common communication system to be utilized by school officials, students, parents, law enforcement and other stakeholders.”
Communication system examples included Parent Link, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and texting.
The Physical Security Subcommittee looked at just that; the internal and external locations of school buildings.
Areas the group focused on included the need to create a single entry point for main campus with secure area, remote door release at reception desk check-in and main entrance, video intercoms, bullet-resistant glass, visitor management system, intruder lockset hardware in all classrooms, vehicle ram protection, limit of exterior glass in specific areas, number windows to classrooms for easier reference for first responders and more.
“Due to the complex nature physical security measures, the Commission has referred a request to the Advisory Committee on Academic Facilities to conduct further research of security enhancements and physical security guidelines to help ensure student and staff safety in traditional and non-traditional schools for possible inclusion in the Commission’s final report in November 2018,” the report reads.
The Log Cabin Democrat has been following the development of the recommendations since establishment in March and has spoken with Doug Bradberry, the operations manager with the commissioner’s office at the Arkansas Department of Education, multiples times.
Bradberry previously told the LCD that it’s important to note that the commission was put together to make the recommendation changes but does not have the authority to make those changes, reminding the public that the only ones with authority to do that is the state legislators.
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.
The commission will make its final report to the governor by Nov. 30.
To view the full report, visit www.governor.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/Arkansas_School_Safety_Commission_Preliminary_Report_and_Executive_Summary_FINAL.pdf.