Arkansas panel looks to harden schools

(The Center Square) – An Arkansas state panel resurrected to recommend school safety measures in light of a mass shooting in Texas is underway.

The newly reinstated Arkansas School Safety Commission established five subcommittees and agreed to meet weekly at its inaugural meeting.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order bringing the 24-member commission together in light of a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last month that left 19 students and two teachers dead. The committee will file an initial report on Aug. 1 and its final report on Oct. 1, according to the order. 

Dr. Cheryl May, who also chaired the 2018 commission, said at Tuesday’s meeting many of the 30 recommendations made by the committee four years ago had been implemented. Seventy-five percent of Arkansas school districts have at least one school resource officer. Twenty percent of school districts have an SRO at each school.

But there is still work to be done, May said. Progress is needed on assessing possible threats to the schools. Just 45% of the schools have an anonymous reporting system, and the state does not have a statewide anonymous reporting system, she said. Only 28% of the school districts have a behavioral threat assessment team. 

Five subcommittees were created: physical security, intelligence and communications, law enforcement and security, mental health and prevention and audits, emergency operations plans and drills. The subcommittees will also hold weekly meetings. 

Hutchinson said previously he is considering a special legislative session to address school safety. He recommends using some of the state’s surplus funds for items such as increased counseling and an armed presence in schools. 

“But it is crucial that we constantly assess the security of our schools and keep abreast of the best ways to ensure our children and educators are safe,” Hutchinson said previously. “The original commission built a solid foundation on which to continue this vital work.”