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Governor forms panel to consider Arkansas school safety improvements

Asa Hutchinson signs an executive order Thursday creating the Arkansas School Safety Commission.
Michael Hibblen
Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs an executive order Thursday creating the Arkansas School Safety Commission.

In the aftermath of the latest school shooting in the United States, an Arkansas panel will study ways to better protect students and teachers. Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order Thursday creating the Arkansas School Safety Commission.

The 11 members come from education and law enforcement backgrounds, and the governor said he will appoint a mental health professional in the coming days. Additional appointees from different geographic regions of the state may also be named.

The commission will look at a broad range of issues, including warning signs that have been missed before previous school shootings.

"That will include the issue of mental health. It’ll include counselors being involved in the discussion. It is about the design of the schools itself and the physical architecture of the schools to see whether we can do more to provide a single point of entry — to avoid easy access to the schools, to provide easier protection," Hutchinson said.

One challenge facing schools is that Arkansas only has 316 armed school resource officers, which is up from 299 last year, but is still only enough to have one in about one-third of the state’s schools. Hutchinson said he believes 13 school districts currently allow staff members who have undergone active shooter training to carry weapons on campus. He estimates that more districts may now also want to allow qualified teachers to carry firearms.

The governor also announced Thursday that he has committed $300,000 from his discretionary fund to go to the Criminal Justice Institute, which is part of the University of Arkansas System, to provide security assessments for schools and pay for additional training for school resource officers.

Dr. Cheryl May is director of CJI and will chair the new commission. An initial report with recommendations will be due July 1, in time for changes to be made before the start of the next school year, and the commission is to wrap up its work by November.

"We very, very much look forward to be able provide recommendations that will have a true impact on our schools," May told reporters. 

Members of the commission are:

  • Dr. Cheryl May – Chair
    Director, Criminal Justice Institute (CJI)
    University of Arkansas System
  • Bill Temple – Vice Chair
    Retired Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • John “Don” Kaminar
    Special Projects and School Safety Manager
    Arkansas Department of Education (ADE)
  • Brad Montgomery
    Director of Public School Academic Facilities
    Arkansas Department of Education (ADE)
  • A.J. Gary
    Director, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM)
  • Sheriff Tim Helder
    Washington County Sheriff 
  • Jami Cook
    Director, Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy (ALETA)
  • Will Jones
    Deputy Attorney General, Special Investigations Unit
    Office of the Attorney General
  • David Hopkins
    Superintendent, Clarksville School District
  • Dawn Anderson
    High School Counselor, Hot Springs High School
  • John Allison
    Teacher, Vilonia High School
Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.