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Gov. Asa Hutchinson will include school safety in next week's special session

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said there is support in the legislature to create a block grant program for schools to improve safety measures.
Ronak Patel
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said there is support in the legislature to create a block grant program for schools to improve safety measures.

Ahead of next week’s special session of the Arkansas Legislature, Gov. Asa Hutchinson provided details Tuesday on what he will include on the agenda. In a press conference, Hutchinson said school safety will be part of the session.

The Arkansas School Safety Commission was reconvened earlier this year through an executive order in response to the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Since then, the commission has met seven times in addition to holding subcommittee meetings. It had previously met and issued a report in 2018.

Hutchinson said after receiving a preliminary reportfrom the commission, he wants to help schools adopt the recommendations through block grants.

“That $50 million will be a good start. It will be a good support mechanism for our school districts as they try to carry out the responsibility that school children must be safe,” Hutchinson said.

He added that the program has broad support from lawmakers.

“In my broad discussion with the legislature, I think the intent is that this could be used for upgrades in school security, access, cameras and specific recommendations that come out of the School Safety Commission’s report,” Hutchinson said.

According to an email from Hutchinson's office, some of the recommendations being considered by the commission include:

  • All school districts should provide access to Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training to all personal who interact with students. 
  • All school districts should establish a behavioral threat assessment team with appropriate composition and training.
  • School districts should develop a layered two-way communication access between staff to ensure information sharing during critical incidents (intercom systems, radios, cell phone apps, etc.)
  • Districts should be required to assign a school safety coordinator to each campus to ensure district school safety policies and procedures are being followed in doing so, create a culture of school safety compliance on every campus.
  • Districts should have a grand master key for all locks and to also provide to local law enforcement to use during a critical incident.

The governor said details on how the block grant program would work and how money would be awarded still needs to be determined. He said the Arkansas Legislative Council and Arkansas Department of Education will work together on specifics.

Cheryl May, chair of the commission, told reporters the report shows schools will need a multi-layered approach to be safe.

“We stress the importance of implementing comprehensive strategies. We make the very strong argument that there’s not one single thing that a school can do to make that school safe,” May said.

Education Secretary Johnny Key said the amount of funding Hutchinson wants allocated won’t cover the cost to adopt all of the recommendations.

“Dr. May referred to a layered approach, so $50 million won’t cover all of the layers,” Key said. “From a district-to-district situation, it’ll address some of those layers.”

Hutchinson said there will also be money available from the federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to address gun violence, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in June. Arkansas senators Tom Cotton and John Boozman voted against the act, which was supported by 15 Republican senators.

The governor, whose term ends in January, said some of the legislative changes needed to adopt recommendations will have to be addressed in next year’s regular session of the legislature.

The final report by the commission is to be completed in October.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.
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