State Capitol Week in Review – June 18, 2022

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas School Safety Commission has been set up again to update measures to protect students while they are in school.


The governor issued an executive order to reinstate the commission in the wake of the mass murder of 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. The commission was originally created in 2018 after the mass murder of 17 people at a school in Lakeland, Florida.


The newly created commission will review how thoroughly Arkansas schools have enacted its original set of recommendations, and will set forth new ideas based on more recent research.


In its original report of 124 pages the commission issued 30 recommendations, many of which have been put in place. For example, 20 percent of Arkansas school districts now have an armed officer on every campus during the school day, and 84 percent of districts have an armed officer on at least one campus.


Some districts hire private security guards and some rely on staff who have been trained how to use firearms. There are 460 school resource officers in 223 districts whose job is security.


Also, 45 percent of Arkansas school districts have implemented a system in which people can anonymously report suspicious behavior, and 28 percent have a team of staff trained in behavioral assessment.


The state commission reviewed the findings of two reports by the federal Secret Service.


The first, issued in 2019, concluded that the killers in 41 school shootings did not share the same clear psychological profile, although most of them shared some similar circumstances. Most of them had been victims of bullying, most had a history of being disciplined at school and most had experienced troubles in their home life.


The second report, issued in 2021, analyzed 67 instances when authorities were able to prevent a planned attack on a school. In those cases, school staff and teachers spotted warning signs in emotionally disturbed teenagers and intervened.


The commission’s recommendations, and legislation enacted in 2019 and 2021, have resulted in more training of school counselors in mental health awareness.


School officials and local police forces are working to streamline communications, so that response times are faster during an emergency.


The Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute offers training for school resource officers, whose duties combine law enforcement with teaching, mentoring and counseling. The Institute also has a course in behavioral threat assessment in cases in which a school is the threatened target.


Unlike most other state task forces and commissions, the School Safety Commission is on a tight deadline. Its first report will be delivered by August 1 and its final report is due by October 1.


During the meeting of the newly formed commission, members brought up the Westside Middle School shooting of March, 1998, when two boys, of 11 and 13 years of age, shot and killed a teacher and four students.


They had set up in a field next to the school, about two miles west of Jonesboro. The younger boy pulled a fire alarm. As students and teacher evacuated the building, the boys fired upon them. In addition to the five people killed, 10 others were injured.