While the Conway School District has stated arming administrators is not something it is interested in pursuing, many Faulkner County superintendents say their districts are at least discussing the possibility, while no decisions have been made.
The idea that many districts are discussing was proposed by Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock.
Shock’s proposal would deputize administrators and allow those school officials to carry weapons on school property.
It’s a possibility many districts across the country are considering in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 students and six staff members dead.
Clarksville School District has attracted national attention in recent weeks after announcing its plan to arm more than 20 teachers, administrators and other school employees after receiving a license from the state board as a private security firm. The proposed armed staff members underwent more than 50 hours of training over the summer.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has questioned the legality of the school district’s plan and has said the school should not have been recognized by the state board as a private security firm, which would allow the district to arm its teachers.
Shock said the 110-hour training he has presented to numerous Faulkner County school districts is a certified law enforcement program that is the same training volunteer reserve deputies are required to complete before working with the sheriff’s office.
Of the county school district superintendents the Log Cabin Democrat recently spoke with, the Greenbrier School District was the only to confirm that Shock’s plan for arming administrators was not being considered, although none of the other superintendents confirmed Shock’s plan would be implemented.
The superintendent of Guy-Perkins was the only Faulkner County school district superintendent the Log Cabin Democrat did not speak with. Attempts to contact the superintendent, by phone, were unsuccessful.
Greenbrier superintendent: ‘Not sure I’m there yet’
Greenbrier School District Superintendent Scott Spainhour said while he appreciates Shock’s proposed plan, the district has no plans to consider the plan with its school board.
"I’m not sure I’m there yet," Spainhour said. "That’s a lot to ask of your school personnel."
Spainhour said he is anxious to see other schools’ decision on arming administrators.
"Anytime you do that, you have to be extremely careful and thoughtful, in terms of implementation," he said.
"For educators, we’re here to educate not to do police business," he said. "I can see the benefits if (administrators were armed), but it’s a dilemma on what’s best."
For Greenbrier schools, which have a full-time School Resource Officer, and a part-time SRO provided by the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office, the decision to pass on Shock’s plan was easier than other county schools.
"We have a great relationship with our SRO," Spainhour said. "Anytime we have a need, they are quick to respond to us."
Spainhour said the school district did have all its administrators, along with its SRO, participate in a school safety training this summer through the Criminal Justice Institute.
Spainhour said surveillance was also added to schools in the district which did not previously have the equipment. The school district is now under surveillance at all times at all its campuses, Spainhour said.
The addition of surveillance at all campuses, completed during last the 2012-13 school year, has been a help to overall school safety, Spainhour said.
"You can’t come on any of our campuses and not be on camera," he said. "If you come and something happens, we’ll have you and your vehicle on camera, and will move swiftly."
At the district’s elementary schools, a new door buzzer system has been implemented, which requires parents and other visitors to come in through the office before being allowed in the building.
"All doors are open in the morning and afternoon, but after we start classes, all have to come through the office," Spainhour said.
The summer was also used as a time for administrators to update the district’s crisis plan, and update response plans, Spainhour said.
Mt. Vernon-Enola district to discuss Shock’s plan at next board meeting
The ability to have multiple SROs and be in close proximity to city police are some of the advantages that allowed Conway School District to pass on Shock’s proposal, the school district’s superintendent said.
It’s luxuries that some county school districts do not have, and it is also why Shock’s plan is being considered.
No school knows some of the disadvantages of being located far from law enforcement more than the Mt. Vernon-Enola School District, which is located around 25 miles from the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office.
"From the sheriff’s office or other law enforcement, it could be 25 to 40 minutes," superintendent Larry Walters said. "That’s a big concern for us, and we’re looking at ways to help deal with it."
For that reason, Walters says the school board will hear a presentation from Shock, about his proposal to arm school administrators, at its next meeting Thursday.
While Walters maintains that "it’s a shame the world has come to this," it is still a plan the district must consider.
"Anytime you have a program that could improve school safety, you have to listen to it," Walters said.
Walters stated that no decision has been made on the possibility of arming administrators in the Mt. Vernon-Enola School District.
"I don’t know (other administrators) would feel comfortable having access to a concealed weapon," he said. "It’s something we’ll have to talk about and approach slowly."
Walters said recent security upgrades have been made across the district, including the ability for teachers to now lock doors from the inside. The district’s elementary school buildings have also been enclosed, Walters said.
"Now there’s only one way in and one way out," he said.
The Mt. Vernon-Enola School District currently has one part-time School Resource Officer that is provided by the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office.
"I commend (Shock) for doing that," Walters said. "The (officer) we have here has been very good and cooperative."
Mayflower superintendent says ‘still too early for decision’ on arming administrators
Mayflower School District Superintendent John Gray said the district has discussed, with Sheriff Andy Shock, the possibility of arming administrators, but stated it’s too early for a decision.
"We’re in the discussion phase right now," he said. "We’ll talk with our board and community, but we have made no decision at this time. It’s still too early."
While Gray said there is a lot of interest on the topic of arming administrators, much of preventing school shooting tragedies has to do with "management and observation, and providing assistant to students."
"In previous shootings, it’s usually been someone that school has known and may have had an issue," Gray said. "We try and train our staff to be aware of students, to try and pull aside those certain students and prevent issues."
Still, Gray said he is watching to see what happens at other schools, such as the Clarksville School District, when it comes to putting guns in the hands of administrators.
"If there are going to be firearms, whoever it is needs to be highly trained and experienced, or it could end up being a bigger problem," he said.
Mayflower schools do not currently have a full-time School Resource Officer, but is in talks with city officials about obtaining one.
"We’re negotiating with (the Mayflower Police Department) and (Mayor Randy Holland)," Gray said. "We would really like a full-time resource officer, and we’re working toward that."
Gray said the district is also looking at other security measures, such as more cameras at the high school and elementary school campuses. As part of a renovation, Gray said cameras were recently added to the middle school campus.
Beginning in 2014, schools will be required to take part in active shooter drills, but it’s something Gray says Mayflower schools have already addressed with its intruder drills, which is part of the district’s comprehensive crisis management plan.
"We revisited the crisis plan to make sure it was comprehensive and current," he said. "It was more just updating than major changes."
"Other states have requirements for a crisis plan, and we’ve taken the lead from other states to use their experiences and examples."
The plan covers minor issues to major school district emergencies, Gray said.
Shock’s plan something ‘we’re exploring,’ Vilonia superintendent says
Frank Mitchell, superintendent for Vilonia schools, said the district had planned to follow a route similar to that of the Clarksville School District until questions of its legality were raised by the Arkansas Attorney General.
The opinion of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has Vilonia schools now considering the possibility of implementing a proposed plan from Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock.
The plan calls for administrators to undergo 110 hours of training. Shock says it’s the same training that volunteer reserve deputies are required to complete.
Mitchell said he has certain questions about the plan, including the number of hours required, and if those who complete the training would be required to complete duties each month with the sheriff’s office.
"If you become an officer, then the threshold of responsibilities and searches and other things would change," Mitchell said. "There is a different standard for an officer."
Mitchell also questioned if administrators who completed the training would be required to wear a badge and openly carry their weapons while on school grounds.
"It’s just something we’re exploring," Mitchell said. "It might be a good option, but it might not fit our situation. We’re not sure yet."
Vilonia currently has one School Resource Officer that is provided by the Vilonia Police Department. Mitchell said the officer, in addition to school security, also provides security at sporting events and other district events.
In addition to Shock’s plan, Mitchell said the district is looking at additional security measures, such as more camera systems and fencing on its campuses.
The Vilonia School District currently has five schools on two campuses.
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)