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Arkansas School Safety Commission revives work, per governor's order

School safety commission, edited.jpg
Ronak Patel
Members of the Arkansas School Safety Commission on Tuesday decided which subcommittee each member will serve on.

The Arkansas School Safety Commission held its first meeting Tuesday since being reconvened by Gov. Asa Hutchinson following last month’s shooting at a Texas elementary school, where 19 students and two teachers were killed.

Through an executive order signed Friday, Hutchinson called for the commission to reevaluate recommendations issued four years ago. The commission is to present an updated report by Aug.1 on measures schools can take to make campuses safer.

“It is a matter of state importance to provide an updated analysis of best practices regarding school safety to our local school districts,” Hutchinson wrote in his executive order.

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Ronak Patel
Cheryl May, chair of the Arkansas School Safety Commission, reminds members of the legislation the commission helped pass in the past few years.

Commission Chair Cheryl May says the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas shows the need for schools to have a multi-faceted approach to keeping campuses safe. The commission has various subcommittees for physical security, mental health and law enforcement.

“There’s not one thing that a school can do and say ‘okay, now our school is safe,’” May said.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge will serve on the law enforcement and intelligence and communications subcommittees. In 2018, former Deputy Attorney General Will Jones was on the commission to represent the AG’s office, but with his recent election as prosecutor for the Sixth Judicial District, Rutledge took Jones' place.

When presenting recommendations from the 2018 report, May pointed out the number of school resource officers has grown. Currently, there are about 460 SROs in the state’s 223 districts. May said she expects that number to increase. Karen Sullards, a former principal and volunteer with the gun control group Moms Demand Action, attended the hearing saying she appreciates commissioners wanting to address school security. But she said she worries about the number of armed officers in schools.

“I just hope that we don’t get too far into too many guns in the school, that kind of thing, because that just really undercuts the climate and culture of a school,” Sullards said.

Commissioner John Allison, a math teacher and cross country coach at Vilonia High School, said recommendations from the commission have been adopted but there can be challenges to implement them.

“There’s a lot of money involved and not all schools can afford that,” Allison said in an interview. “I’m hoping we can find ways to help schools implement even more of them [recommendations].”

Recommendations from the report due in August could potentially be used to craft legislation if a special session is called by Hutchinson. The governor has voiced his support of using some of the state’s $1.4-billion surplus to address school safety through block grants to school districts.

The report presented to Hutchinson in August will be an initial report and the final report will be published on Oct. 1. May said the initial report can still be used to craft legislation if lawmakers decided to call a special session this summer.

Ronak Patel was a reporter for KUAR News focusing on state and local government.
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