LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas School Safety Commission presented its initial list of recommendations to the governor.
The first recommendation in the executive summary is that “No campus should ever be without armed presence when staff and children are present.”
How best to provide an armed presence should be a local decision by school boards, administrators, parents and teachers.
The commission outlined several options. One is to follow the example of the Clarksville School District, which has Commission School Security Officers (CSSOs), who are staff with access to firearms in case of emergency.
The School Safety Commission singled out the Emergency Response Team of Clarksville schools as the best practice use of CSSOs, and recommended that other school districts that use CSSOs should adopt policies similar to those adopted by Clarksville. They include psychological exams of armed staff, random drug screening and training with local law enforcement.
The commission recommended, and the governor specifically endorsed, the improvement of mental health counseling for students.
The commission and the governor pointed out that school counselors should become more available for actual counseling, which means that they must decrease the time they spend on administrative duties such as giving tests and paperwork.
Freeing up school counselors will mean changes in state law. The governor directed the state Education Commissioner to review the status of the Public School Student Services Act, which passed in 1991.
It requires school counselors to spend at least 75 percent of their time in direct counseling and no more than 25 percent of their time on administrative duties. The governor said at a press conference that counselors spend too much time on paperwork and not enough time on the needs of students.
Each school district should form a behavioral threat assessment team. Its duty would be to investigate and respond to potential threats, such as when a student posts on social media that he intends to commit a violent act.
Schools should set up a communication system that connects parents, teachers, school administrators and law enforcement. The system would allow all parties to know what plans are in place, how emergencies will be handled, whether public threats are credible and how parents and family will be notified as soon as possible during emergencies.
The commission recommended that districts consider changes to the physical layout of schools that would improve security, such as limiting public access to a single entry and installing bullet proof glass.
When the legislature considers school safety improvements next session, the cost of recommendations will be a political issue. The question will be how to allocate costs among local schools, law enforcement agencies and the state.
The state’s fiscal year ended on June 30 with total net revenue of $5.5 billion. That is $146.2 million, or 2.7 percent, above last year.
Sales taxes and individual income taxes contributed to revenue growth. Sales taxes increased 3.4 percent over the previous year and individual income taxes increased 4.5 percent. The growth in state revenue is a reliable indicator of the state’s overall economic condition.