LITTLE ROCK — A state regulatory panel’s decision that school districts cannot employ private security guards will affect about 200 people employed at schools across the state, some of whom may have been on the job for years, according to the Arkansas State Police.
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said last week the agency was sending about 200 letters to people who have been registered by school districts as security personnel to inform them that their registration is suspended.
The state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies voted Wednesday to suspend the registrations in response to a Aug. 1 opinion by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel that the board did not have authority to permit school districts to register people as security personnel.
Districts are permitted to contract with private security agencies to provide security guards or to place school resource officers in their schools, but they cannot hire their own security guards or use their existing employees as security guards, McDaniel said in the opinion.
Sadler said last week, "The State Police staff … is preparing letters that will be sent to each of the security guards employed by a public school district. Copies of those letters will also be addressed to the superintendents of the schools where those individuals are employed."
Sadler said the letters will advise the security guards that their registration through the board has been suspended for 60 days and that they can appeal the suspension to the board. Both armed and unarmed guards will receive the letters if they are registered as security guards through the board, he said.
The school districts that have obtained registration for security guards, according to McDaniel’s opinion, are Ashdown, Clarksville, Concord, Cutter Morning Star, Fort Smith, Lake Hamilton, Lee County School District No. 1, Little Rock, Nettleton Public Schools in Jonesboro, Poyen, Pulaski County Special School District and Westside Consolidated School District No. 5 in Jonesboro.
The Clarksville district has received national attention for its controversial plan to arm about 20 teachers and staff in the coming school year, a plan that has been blocked by the board’s action. But letters also are going out to security guards who have been employed at districts without controversy for years.
Some school superintendents have argued that because their security guards are current or former police officers, they are not affected by the board’s decision.
"Evidently, it isn’t going to affect us at all because our supervisor of safety and security is an accredited police officer," Fort Smith Superintendent Benny Gooden told the Times Record newspaper in Fort Smith. "He’s commissioned with a law enforcement agency."
Gooden said the district registered its security supervisor with the Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, but he did not believe it had to. He said the employee, a part-time officer with the Logan County Sheriff’s Office, is "no different than our two resource officers."
McDaniel noted in his non-binding opinion that he was not addressing the authority of school districts to utilize school resource officers or to contract with properly licensed security companies. But in answer to the question of whether a school district could act as a "private company" that directly employs security officers, McDaniel said it could not.
Sadler said the State Police will send a letter to every security guard privately employed by a school district advising that the person’s authority to serve in that capacity has been suspended — regardless of whether the person is a law enforcement officer.
"If the employee is currently licensed as a security guard by the board, they will receive a letter," Sadler said.
Ralph Sims, chairman of the Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, said it was his understanding that all of the school security officers commissioned through the board would have to stop working upon receiving notice of the suspension, although they could appeal the suspension.
"They will not be able to work as registered security officers," he said.
But Sims recommended seeking clarification from the attorney general’s office, which declined to comment.
Further complicating the issue is the question of whether school districts can arm their employees by sending them to receive law enforcement training. Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock has proposed training school administrators in that county to serve as armed school security guards.
"We want to start the conversation," Shock told the Log Cabin Democrat newspaper in Conway. "We want to see if the community, as a whole, feels this is the way to go, and if it is, I’m going to help them do it."