LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas law does not allow school districts to employ teachers and staff as armed security guards, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an opinion Thursday.
McDaniel said the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies is not authorized to license a political subdivision such as a school district to provide armed security.
"Simply put, the code in my opinion does not authorize either licensing a school district as a guard company or classifying it as a private business authorized to employ its own teachers as armed guards," McDaniel said in the opinion requested by state Rep. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff.
McDaniel said his opinion did not address school districts contracting with properly licensed private security companies or school resource officers. He also said the General Assembly could change an existing law that prohibits school employees from carrying firearms on school property.
According to the opinion, 12 school districts have obtained licenses from the board to permit them to train, license and arm teachers and staff. One of the districts, Clarksville, is already in the midst of a $50,000 training program to train, arm and provide ammunition to nearly two dozen teachers and staff.
Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday. Last month, Hopkins told the Arkansas News Bureau the program 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.
The other school districts that have obtained licenses, according to the opinion, are Ashdown, 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 Arkansas State Police is the administrator of licenses approved by the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies. State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Thursday that although the opinion specifically addresses a question about school districts, the agency has decided to put all applications by "non-conventional" entities on hold.
"For instance, there are hospitals that have their own security guard service," he said. "Is that a security guard company? That’s something that’s going to have to be sorted out by the board."
No other public school districts have applications pending, but John Brown University, a private institution, has one pending, Sadler said.
The board also will have to decide what to do about school districts and other non-conventional entities that already have been issued licenses, Sadler said. He said he did not know how many such licenses have been issued.
"Nothing’s happening to those right now. It’s business as usual until the board can give the State Police, as its administrator, some guidance as to what needs to happen next," Sadler said.
The board has an attorney who serves as a liaison with with the attorney general’s office. Sadler said the chairman of the board will consult with the attorney regarding what the board should do to comply with the law.
The Clarksville district sent its volunteer guards to Nighthawk Custom Training Academy at Centerton for 54 hours of custom training led by Springdale Police SWAT team officers. They underwent three courses of fire training, one of them the same as that given to law enforcement officers, as well as 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.
The volunteers also received 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.
State Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, whose district includes Clarksville, said Thursday he was surprised by the opinion and did not think it necessarily meant the district had to abandon its program.
"Clarksville’s already spent the money to send these people to get trained, and apparently the school board has approved it — and the community has to be behind it or they would have already objected to it," he said. "This is a non-binding opinion. I would tell the superintendent, hey, call your people together. If they want to go through with it, I would say go ahead and do it."
Stubblefield also said he would support changing the law to allow school districts to arm teachers and staff.
"It shouldn’t be a mandate, but if they choose to do it, yeah, I think they should be allowed to do it and protect their kids," he said.