Many school safety board recommendations will be expensive, governor says

School districts will need more money to implement the recommendations in the Arkansas School Safety Commissionfinal report, Governor Hutchinson told lawmakers.

The state has already allocated $50 million for security measures ranging from updated technology to increased personnel and protective infrastructure. And while districts are also expected to apply for a federal grant, they will need more than this one-time $50 million influx to comply with the report’s many recommendations, the Republican governor wrote.

Hutchinson created the commission in 2018 and reconvened it this year after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

He noted that the panel is recommending a change to state law requiring schools to keep doors and exits unlocked during school hours.

“As evidenced by Robb Elementary [School in Uvalde, Texas] and in other school shootings, unlocked doors and entrances allowed the shooter(s) to enter the building easily and without much fuss, reducing the time teachers had to secure their classrooms,” the governor wrote.

“The Commission recommends Arkansas Code §12-13-109 be amended to keep all exit doors and classroom doors closed and locked during school hours, except for transition periods,” he added.

Here is a copy of the Arkansas School Safety Commission’s 2022 Final Report.

Hutchinson’s letter said continued funding to address the commission’s recommendations “is a priority.”

“We agree that any new recurrent funding should be identified and used only for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. Further, this funding should not be used to pay for school safety strategies already in place, but rather used only to improve and expand our school district’s school safety preparedness capacity,” said the report, compiled by the chairman of the committee. Cheryl May, Director of the University of Arkansas System Criminal Justice Institute.

Notably, the commission failed to address a relatively inexpensive and sensible way to keep our children and teachers safe: regulating firearms, particularly assault weapons. But I suspect Arkansas will wait for more children and teachers to die, not to mention more legislative wrangling over school funding. After all, we wouldn’t want to give schools too much money, would we?

During its weekly meetings, members of the safety committee have sometimes expressed a desire for greater accountability from the school district. In his final report, he said, “School districts should be required to include the status of implementation of Arkansas School Safety Commission recommendations in their annual report to the public.”

Other recommendations, some of which we have reported over the past few months following the commission meetings, include:

  • “Campuses should always have an armed presence when staff and children are attending a class or major extracurricular activity.”
  • The glass of classroom doors must be protected with a shatterproof film. “At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the shooter killed and injured numerous students by shooting through the vision panel on several locked doors,” the panel noted.
  • All quarters must have a master key that can open all doors.
  • Place physical barriers such as bollards, landscaping, fences, low walls, etc. at school entrances, especially the main entrance.
  • A school safety unit should be formed within the state’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Other recommendations relate to mental health awareness, cyber security, drills, staff training, additional physical security measures and emergency response.

Aurora J. William