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Texarkana Working to Keep Students Safe

Press Shop | 08.10.2018

TEXARKANA – Everything turned out okay, but Texarkana Schools Superintendent Becky Kesler learned firsthand the importance of putting in place a school safety plan.

In the spring, a student at Texarkana High School reported to the principal an Instagram post in which a fellow student had threatened to shoot up the school.

“We immediately locked down the campus,” Mrs. Kesler said. “The principal called the security director and police, and immediately located the student.

“We had everything taken care of in a matter of 15 minutes.”

School security in the United States took on a renewed urgency in February after a student killed seventeen students and staff at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Within two weeks, Governor Asa Hutchinson had created the Arkansas School Safety Commission, to which he appointed sixteen members with the assignment to fan out across the state, survey schools, interview school staffs, and then report back with recommendations for improving school safety.

“The physical safety of our students is a nonnegotiable responsibility and demands the immediate attention of professionals in education, law enforcement, security, and mental health,” Governor Hutchinson said at the time he released the executive order that created the commission. “This commission will report back to me with a comprehensive assessment of school security and recommendations for shoring up the weaknesses.

“Through research, interviews and school visits, the members of this commission will lead a statewide conversation that will guide us to establish and implement fundamental safeguards to protect Arkansas students from violence.”

The Commission presented its preliminary report to the governor the first week of July. On July 13 in Texarkana, the governor presided over a school-safety round-table discussion that included teachers, school counselors, mental health counselors, school resource officers, police officers, and the Miller County sheriff and a deputy. 

Many of the thirty people who participated had read the commission’s report. The meeting was helpful and reassuring, Mrs. Kesler said.

“We felt like we already had done some of the things in the report,” Mrs. Kesler said. “But it also opened our eyes to some things. We needed to make some changes.”

One of the immediate needs was to create a district-wide security committee and to appoint a security coordinator on each of the nine campuses. Mrs. Kesler hopes to have all that in place by the time school starts in August.

Another of the recommendations in the report that the district plans to implement is a telephone line so that students can report anonymously threats or suspicious behavior.

Although the school didn’t have the benefit of the report when the student threatened violence back in the spring, the plans it did have in in place allowed school officials to resolve the situation without incident.

“The principal was able to get to the bottom of the threat very quickly,” Mrs. Kesler said. “We got the student in to get him some help.”

The district already had implemented an alert system that notifies parents by telephone of emergencies at the schools, but parents knew about it minutes before the school computer called.

“As soon as we locked down the campus, the students knew something was happening,” Mrs. Kesler said. “Word travels so fast. There were rumors. Kids were calling parents. Parents were calling and asking. Social media makes all the difference.”

CLICK HERE to view more photos of Texarkana's School Safety Roundtable.

 Next up on 250: Governor Hutchinson’s longtime friend, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leads a school-safety roundtable at Lake Hamilton High School in Pearcy.

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