Arkansas school safety commission recommends armed presence on every campus

Gov. Asa Hutchinson seeking $50 million to fund school safety program.
Asa Hutchinson

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will ask state lawmakers for $50 million to fund a school safety grant program recommended by the School Safety Commission.

The governor presented the commission's initial report on Tuesday. Many of its recommendations require money and changes to the law, Hutchinson said. Potential legal changes will be examined in January, but the funding aspect will be looked at as early as next week during the legislative special session.

The commission recommends an armed presence at every campus at all times and a change in the state law that would require all doors and exits remain locked during school hours. Currently the law requires doors and exits to remain unlocked due to the fire code, Hutchinson said.

Other recommendations include more audits, drills and “compliance efforts” through the appointment of a school safety coordinator at each campus.

“The responsibility of that coordinator would be to ensure that there is a culture of compliance, that they’re all working in the same direction to keep the children safe and to make sure that the models that’s being prepared, that the training that is being carried out, is actually put into practice,” Hutchinson said.

The commission’s interim report calls for an expansion of youth mental health training for all school personnel who interact with students and for all students to have access to mental health services, whether it be in-person or via telehealth.

The report also recommends making it a requirement for every school district to have a behavioral threat assessment team. This has previously been recommended, but not required for school districts to do.

“These recommendations require an investment of real dollars by local school districts,” said Hutchinson. “Today the report makes the need clear for a $50 million dollar school safety grant program that I will be putting on the agenda of the special session that is set for next week. That $50 million dollars will be a good start, a good support mechanism for our school districts as they try to carry out the responsibility that school children must be safe. The General Assembly will set the parameters of this grant program, but I expect broad support and that it can be used to meet the recommendations of the school safety report.”

Arkansas lawmakers convene in a special session on Monday to discuss how to spend a $1.6 billion surplus from fiscal year 2022.

The Legislature passed multiple bills passed as a result of the School Safety Commission's 2018 report that mandated school safety assessments, school climate and culture assessments and additional training for school counselors in youth mental health. Lawmaker also passed Act 190 in 2019 that required 90% of school counselors’ time be spent counseling students instead of handling administrative duties.

The commission reconvened at Hutchinson’s direction after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 21 people, including 19 children. Its final report is due to the governor by Oct. 1.