LITTLE ROCK — The superintendent of the Clarksville School District said Friday the district does not plan to have armed teachers and staff on campus when classes start Aug. 19, but he said the district has not entirely given up on the idea either.
The district had spent $68,000 to train nearly two dozen teachers and staff to serve as armed security by the time Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Thursday in an advisory opinion that Arkansas school districts are not permitted under state law to act as private entities able to hire private security guards or train their employees to provide armed security.
"We’re not saying that all hope is lost necessarily, but we are in a holding pattern until we can kind of get this all sorted out," Superintendent David Hopkins said. "It just fell out of the sky on top of us, and we’re trying to deal with it. We’re just reeling from that decision."
According to the Arkansas State Police, the Clarksville district is one of 60 entities, 13 of them school districts, that have obtained licenses from the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies to hire or train private security guards. The program that Clarksville planned to roll out this month was the most ambitious program in any district.
Hopkins acknowledged that attorney general’s opinions are non-binding but said that for now the program is on hold. He said that if it requires legislative action to allow school districts to place armed guards on campus, he would support such action.
"I would be willing to work with any legislator that would be willing to craft some sort of a solution that would allow us to provide better security for our children," he said.
The district adopted the program in response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December in which 20 children and six school staff members died.
"Say a guy walks through that door with a firearm intent to do harm to our people: How do you respond to that?" he said. "There is nothing we can do on that campus to respond to that except call law enforcement and hope they get there as quickly as possible — and in a situation like that I wish people would see that seconds count."
Among other districts that have obtained licenses from the board is the Pulaski County Special School District. Superintendent Jerry Guess said Friday he believed the opinion would not affect his district.
"The only people that we might have in any building that would be in charge of security would be resource officers or off-duty sheriff’s deputies or off-duty police officers. They are, of course, licensed to carry through their job. None of our … employees carry weapons," he said.
The Fort Smith School District also has obtained a license. Superintendent Benny Gooden said Friday the district has one armed employee, a former Barling police chief who serves as supervisor of safety and security.
"He’s still certified, and he’s active because he moonlights on the weekend for the Logan County Sheriff’s Department," he said. "He technically is not just a private security guard. He’s a certified law enforcement officer. … I don’t believe (the opinion) refers to certified officers."
Gooden said the district has had a supervisor of safety and security for about 20 years and only obtained a license relatively recently.
"Some state official told us that we needed to. I don’t know that we did," he said.
Ralph Sims, chairman of the Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, said the board would have no immediate comment on the opinion.
"The board is reviewing the A.G.’s opinion but has not had an opportunity to discuss it," he said. "That is something that can only happen in a public hearing, and the next regular meeting will be a week from Wednesday."