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After nine months of interviews, statewide travel, and visits to 12 schools, the Arkansas School Safety Commission has submitted a 124-page report with recommendations to improve security for students and staff. This extraordinary report exceeded my expectations. It is comprehensive, and it already is enhancing safety in our school districts.
The Commission’s five subcommittees made 30 significant recommendations that address the wide range of measures we can take to make our schools safer.
It is important to note that the state recognizes the need for local flexibility in determining the best security practices, which is in keeping with my philosophy that the local educators are in the best position to decide what is best for their district. One of the recommendations is to alter the school facility funding program to allow schools to use money to improve security features in the schools. This is a good idea that I expect will be implemented.
Of the five categories the Commission addressed, the members wisely put mental health at the forefront. For all the things we can do to protect our children, the starting point must be our attention to the mental health climate at our schools and attention to each student.
And the best place to start is to review the current work load for counselors. We must reduce their administrative responsibilities and free them to spend more time interacting with students. This will allow them to identify students who are struggling with emotional or mental-health issues and to guide them to proper help. This focus will give us a better chance to head off a mass tragedy.
The commissioners, who reviewed cases of mass shootings nationwide, recommend that anytime students or staff are on campus, the school should provide some manner of armed protection. Some school districts already have responded. The number of School Resource Officers has increased by 54 in just one year.
This commission also notes that a rapid armed response to an ongoing attack saves lives.
I have made it clear, however, that this is voluntary and that no teacher or staff member should be required to carry a firearm. We can hire school resource officers, and schools may choose to have a commissioned school security officer.
I created the commission by executive order on March 1, two weeks after the tragic attack at the high school in Florida.
I knew this commission was necessary because we all know that there is nothing more important than the safety of our children.
I am grateful for the leadership of Commission Chair Dr. Cheryl May and Vice Chair William Temple and for the work of the commissioners. Their recommendations are the foundation of our commitment to parents that they can send their children to school confident that they are safe.