Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson accepted a preliminary report from the Arkansas School Safety Commission last week as Arkansas leaders look for ways to improve the safety of students in Arkansas schools.
Hutchinson created the Commission by executive order in March and the Commission has met nine times since then. Members of the Commission visited schools across the state, including the Crossett School District, in an attempt to determine what works and what doesn’t work towards protecting Arkansas students.
The commissioners evaluated safety and security policies, emergency plans and policies and the design of schools – including concepts such as single-point entry and electronic-access badges. The Commission also focused on the mental-health aspect and surveyed the availability of school counseling for students.
Following the initial report, Hutchinson said better access to mental-health counseling must be a priority for schools.
To create policy that keeps counselors actively helping students and not conducting administrative work, Hutchinson may need to re-evaluate the Public School Students Services Act. Passed in 1991, the act requires school counselors to spend at least 75 percent of their time at work in direct counseling and no more than 25 percent of their time on administrative duties.
The preliminary report also recommended no campus ever be without armed presence when staff and students are present. Hutchinson stressed that no teacher will be required to carry a weapon.
The report states that, when financially practical, each district or campus should have a school resource officer assigned “depending on the geographic size and composition of the district.”
However, while teachers will not be required, the Commission recommended Clarksville School District’s system of safety response teams as an alternative to SROs. In the district, selected staff members have access to firearms to respond to emergencies.
Those selected are trained by local law enforcement and must pass psychological and drug screenings.
Superintendent Tracy Streeter said the district will not wait for the final report in November to proceed with the planned improvements.
The district already has one SRO, Officer William Hughes, but the city is working on acquiring a grant to fund an additional SRO, according to Hamburg Mayor Dane Weindorf.
Streeter said she does not like the Clarksville model for Hamburg.
The school board has discussed several possibilities for physical safety improvements around the school, such as badge entry and improved doors.
Streeter said the district will take a graduated approach to the physical measures and build upon them periodically.
The Commission will deliver its final report to the governor on November 30.