FORT SMITH — When students return to classes in the Clarksville School District next month, the district will have nearly two dozen faculty and staff trained as armed, volunteer, commissioned security guards to respond in the event of gun violence on school campuses, Superintendent David Hopkins says.
The program, approved by the Clarksville School Board approved in May, is a response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December in which 20 children and six school staff members died. It will put several armed guards at each of the district’s five campuses as part of an overall security enhancement that includes upgrading cameras, push-button access to buildings and more, Hopkins said.
The superintendent said several people asked him what the school district would do to protect students and staff if faced with such an incident, and the district had no adequate way to protect the students.
Nationwide, there have been multiple school shootings in recent decades, and the only advice school officials have received is to lock the doors and hide, he said.
"The reality is what happened at Newtown happened in five minutes," the superintendent said in an interview Monday, adding that schools have seconds, not minutes, to respond.
Hopkins stressed repeatedly that the district does not want to ever deal with a school shooting incident, but it wants to be prepared should one occur.
Arkansas law prohibits guns on kindergarten through 12th-grade campuses unless they are possessed by certified law enforcement officers. Training the volunteers as commissioned security guards meets the requirements of the law, the superintendent said.
The guards are not intended to take the place of police response, but it could take a few minutes for police officers to arrive, and the guards will already be there.
Parental feedback has been primarily positive, and negative feedback he has received has generally been eased when those individuals understand the level of training the district is providing to the volunteer guards, Hopkins said.
The volunteers include Clarksville school administrators, teachers, secretaries and janitors, Hopkins said, adding that he feels good about the high-quality of the volunteers, many of whom hold multiple degrees.
The volunteer guards trained at Nighthawk Custom Training Academy at Centerton. Springdale Police SWAT team officers led their training, and they received 54 hours of custom training, Hopkins said.
They underwent three courses of fire training, one of them the same as that given to law enforcement officers. They underwent low-light shooting training and dynamic target training in which the targets moved about and the guards had to determine who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.
Then Hopkins said, they underwent force-on-force training on the Clarksville campus, using Air Soft pistols and bringing in some of their children to play roles in several training scenarios.
The commissioned guards practice every other month, and they will undergo a refresher course annually, the superintendent said.
The district has one school resource officer who works at all of its campuses. It is possible that he might not be on campus should a school shooter incident arise, Hopkins said.
Clarksville business manager and district treasurer Freeman Wish said the district is able to implement the volunteer guard program for less than the cost of adding another school resource officer. Wish said the district pays 60 percent of the salary of its resource officer, a city employee, and the city covers the remaining 40 percent.
Hopkins estimated an about $50,000 cost to train and arm and provide training ammunition for the almost two dozen volunteer guards. The district provided the volunteers with a one-time stipend and instructions regarding the type of handgun to buy.
Hopkins said Walther Arms, now of Fort Smith, is helping the district obtain the firearms.
The program’s cost will decrease in successive years, he said.
The guards will wear tags identifying them as security guards, but they will not wear uniforms, Hopkins said. Signage stating armed security guards are on the premises will be posted on the doors.
The guards will conceal their handguns, and the guns must be on their persons. Hopkins said a few situations were identified in which the guards would not be able to carry their guns. In those cases, he said, the guns will be secured in lock-safes.