LITTLE ROCK — Clarksville School District Superintendent David Hopkins insists that arming school employees should be part of an overall school security plan and points to an incident at an Atlanta-area elementary school to prove his point.
Last week, a 20-year-old man with an assault rifle and other weapons managed to sneak into an elementary school in Decatur, Ga. He made his way to the school’s main office, where he demanded someone call a local TV station and then fired several shots at police before surrendering.
No one was injured in the shooting.
"What was shown in Atlanta is that regardless of the exterior measures … all the things you try to put in place, you really need that ultimate fail safe if someone really does get into your building with a firearm with the intent to destroy lives," Hopkins said. "You’ve got to have people in place that can respond immediately to that threat."
Hopkins will be at the state Capitol this week to discuss with lawmakers his district’s plans to arm about two dozen teachers and employees and how the security measures were halted by an unfavorable attorney general’s opinion and a state panel’s suspension of the licenses of those school employees registered with the state as security personnel.
"Right now we’re not able to implement it," Hopkins said, adding that an appeal of the ruling of the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies is scheduled for Sept. 11.
Hopkins said his school district has already implemented many of the security measures that the Georgia elementary school had in place, including additional doors, cameras and an electronic locking system that lets employees in the school’s office screen who can enter the building.
The Clarksville district has spent about $70,000 on the new security equipment in addition to training for 20 staff and teachers to act as armed security personnel, he said.
"You can feel good about your door locks and all these other things, but is that going to stand up and defend your kids? Obviously not. It didn’t work, Hopkins said.
"Most of the time I would say a lot of things will work … as you try to keep the guy out of your building" he said. "But there has to be some sort of a fail safe in place that if all those security measures are breached and he is in the building, now what?"
Hopkins is to appear Wednesday before a joint meeting of the House and Senate judiciary committees.
The chairman of the Senate panel, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, said the purpose of the meeting is not to debate the merits of the attorney general’s advisory opinion, but to try and find another path school districts might be able to take to improve security with armed personnel.
In the Aug. 1 advisory opinion, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the Clarksville School Board could not legally authorize school employees to carry guns on campus.
Over the years, 13 school districts, including Clarksville, have obtained licenses and registration from the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies for about 60 employees to serve as armed security. Like those in Clarksville, the licenses and registrations to the employees in those school districts also were suspended by the board earlier this month.
Each of the districts was notified by the board last week that their appeals of the decision will be considered at a meeting on Sept. 11.
Hutchinson said he hopes the joint legislative committee can devise plan that would allow the school districts to move forward with plans to arm school personnel this fall.
"We’re going to discuss it and try to find an avenue that local school districts can use to provide security," Hutchinson said. "There has to be an involved discussion on arming teachers, principals, or whomever, and is there a way under current law to do that. There is a lack of clarity as to what is allowed now."
If nothing can be done to clear the way this fall, Hutchinson suggested legislation could be drafted for consideration during the Legislature’s fiscal session early next year.
Getting legislation unrelated to the state budget on the fiscal session’s agenda requires a supermajority vote of both the House and Senate, something Hutchinson said could happen because he expects other non-budget items to be added to the session, including possible changes to the state parole system and measures to contain the rising cost of teacher health insurance premiums.
"My perspective is, we need to give local schools as much control as possible," he said.
A number of other school districts have discussed arming school staff and teachers.
The Log Cabin Democrat newspaper in Conway reported that Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock spoke to the Mt. Vernon-Enola School Board earlier this month and suggested allowing school administrators to go through the same 110-hour certified law enforcement training that reserve deputies are required to complete.
Shock offered to provide the training free of charge, the newspaper reported.
Mt. Vernon-Enola Superintendent Larry Walters said last week that no action has been taken by the board. He said a special school board meeting has been tentatively set for Sept. 5 to consider a plan to allow public comment on Shock’s proposal.
Along with a public hearing, information on the proposal would be sent home with students and a survey would be provided to parents, he said.
"We’re not even close at this time to making a decision," Walters said. "At this point, it’s just sitting back, taking in all the information and then we’ll give it due consideration."