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Arkansas School Safety Commission makes 56 recommendations

Cheryl May, chair of the Arkansas School Safety Commission, said the commission has created 30 recommendations for the state to make schools safer.
Ronak Patel
Dr. Cheryl May, seen here on July 29, 2022, is chair of the Arkansas School Safety Commission. Members have submitted a final report with recommendations to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Members of the Arkansas School Safety Commission wrapped up four months of hearings with a final report being issued last week.

The panel was reconvened by Gov. Asa Hutchinson after a shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers. The commission previously met and issued a report in 2018 after a shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The latest report includes 56 new recommendations on how schools can improve security. Dr. Cheryl May, director of the University of Arkansas System Criminal Justice Institute, chaired the commission. She says this time commissioners focused more on physical security recommendations.

“If you look at the report first, a lot of the schools are doing what they need to be doing,” May said in an interview with KUAR News.

$50 million has been allocated by the Arkansas Legislature to fund safety projects, including hiring more school resource officers. Among the recommendations are that each school have armed personnel on campus, working alert systems, enhanced door security and random safety checks.

Many recommendations were inspired by security failures at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Some of the doors were unlocked, including the main entrance and the door to classroom where most of the victims were killed.

There was a teacher outside the school who was not able to alert those inside about the active shooter. There were also no school resource officers nearby.

May called it a “culture of noncompliance.”

“They had basically little colored rocks by the outside door,” she said. “They seemed to think that was perfectly fine.”

May says she hopes the recommendations will keep future attacks from happening by implementing a “layered” approach. That would involve several fail-safe measures to prevent shooters from entering a classroom.

“It's critically important that our schools not think in terms of a single dimension,” May said.

She said she is most concerned about schools in rural areas.

“If you're in a small district, you don't have many students,” May said, "you don't have a tax base to supplement that. It can be extremely difficult for these schools to be able to do what they need to do to make their kids as safe as possible.”

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.