The Arkansas School Safety Commission released its final report to Governor Asa Hutchinson on Monday, Dec. 3, concluding a process that began in March in the wake of the Parkland, Fla. high school shooting. The Commission made 30 recommendations as a part of its 124-page report seeking to improve safety in schools for students and staff.
Hutchinson called the report “an extraordinary exercise that exceeded my expectations.” The Commission was divided into several subcommittees, including subcommittees on “Mental Health and Prevention,” “Law Enforcement and Security,” “Audits, Emergency Operations Plans, and Drills,” “Intelligence and Communications,” and “Physical Security.”
The leadup to the report’s release was met with speculation, as an earlier draft had been released in July. Among the chief questions answered by Monday’s release was the Commission’s recommendation regarding arming school staff. The Commission answered these questions by recommending that “No campus should ever be without an armed presence when staff and children are attending class or a major extracurricular activity.” They further recommended that “If financially practicable, schools should ideally have at least one SRO for each campus,” stating that resource officers should be present during school hours and during any substantial extracurricular activities. As for the arming of school staff, the Commission recommended that if the school desires to arm staff, that those staff members undergo extensive training with local law enforcement.
While some 70 percent of schools have implemented recommendations from the July report, these recommendations are just that—recommendations. Regarding the arming of staff, Hutchinson responded to reporters, “I do not believe that should be mandated. That is a recommendation. The final decision should be made by the local school district and local school leadership.” The governor has made it clear though that he supports firearms in the school, previously stating in a February interview with CBS’ Face the Nationthat “The children are trained to throw books at an intruder, anything that they have hands on. So if you have any firearm, it’s obviously going to be a better protection.”
He stated during the interview that with regard to school autonomy, “It should be locally decided as to what that weapon is and of what the comfort level is with the trained staff. So those are local decisions have to be made as to what is the best utility.”
The recommendation to arm staff seems to contradict prior data and opinion, as federal studies point to both the dangers of arming school staff and the displeasure of staff in being armed. According to the National Education Association, “The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the nation’s two largest organizations of education professionals, oppose allowing guns in schools, a position they reiterated after the Parkland shooting.” The National Association of School Resource Officers also opposes these findings, citing danger to law enforcement and students. Law enforcement also is opposed to the prospect, as “The FBI found that in 250 active shooter incidents, there were only seven successful armed civilian interventions.” The President and the Executive Director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, an association that represents 75 police forces from large cities in the USA and Canada simply stated that arming teachers was “not a good idea.”
The Commission’s findings were also disputed by the gun safety advocacy group, Arkansas Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The organization made a statement through spokesperson Eve Jorgensen, who responded, “I’m disappointed that instead of exploring proven gun violence prevention tools like robust Red Flag Laws, the Commission is recommending the dangerous policy of arming teachers.” Red flag laws are designed to prevent gun violence, allowing state courts to restrict access to guns if a person is a threat to themselves or others. These laws have been passed in other states by both Democratic and Republican leaders. Arkansas Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has posted data backing up their claims regarding arming teachers and has become a vocal voice in the Arkansas political stage. Several successful midterm campaigns came from candidates who embraced the group.
Aside from their findings regarding guns, the Commission also made recommendations regarding mental health, recommending that “Every school district should conduct school climate surveys across all campuses, and develop and implement an action plan based on the findings of the school climate survey” and that “All school districts should implement a positive climate program that deters bullying behaviors, and promotes social-emotional learning and positive peer relationships.” The Commission also recommended that “All school districts should provide access to training in Youth Mental Health First Aid for all personnel who interact with students. Additional school personnel training may include: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ECUs), Trauma-Informed Schools, Drug-Endangered Children, and Social-Emotional Learning.”
Governor Hutchinson expressed his hopes for the future of Arkansas school safety in light of the final report, saying, “I hope that we’ll be able to see a year from now, first of all that there not be any incidents in Arkansas. That would be a real answer to prayer, but also because of security initiatives.”