LITTLE ROCK — The Clarksville school superintendent said Monday that trained teachers and staff still could be armed when school starts since he has determined that an attorney general’s opinion unfavorable to the program is "erroneous."
Superintendent David Hopkins said that after consulting over the weekend with the school district’s attorney, he has concluded that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was wrong to say in an advisory opinion last week that 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.
The district recently spent about $68,000 training about 20 employees to serve as armed security guards. Hopkins said Monday the district is waiting on word from the Arkansas State Police as to whether McDaniel’s opinion means the district has to cancel the program — and that unless the agency indicates that it does, the program will be in place when classes start Aug. 19.
"We’re sitting on go," he said. "The only thing that’s detracting from this process is the attorney general’s erroneous opinion."
Clarksville is one of 13 school districts that have obtained licenses from the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies allowing them to hire armed security or train employees to serve as armed guards. In an opinion Thursday requested by a state legislator, McDaniel said that a state law allows the board to issue the licenses to private businesses but does not allow it to issue them to political subdivisions such as school districts.
Hopkins said he and the district’s attorney, Jay Bequette of Little Rock, disagree. He noted that the statute, Arkansas Code Annotated 17-40-201, allows the board to issue a license to a person and defines "person" as "an individual, firm, association, company, partnership, corporation, nonprofit, organization, institution, or similar entity."
"When you go to the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus and you look up what an ‘institution’ is, the first thing it tells you is that it’s … ‘a public organization with a particular purpose or function,’" Hopkins said, adding that he believed a school district would meet that definition.
Bequette did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday. A spokesman for McDaniel declined to comment on Hopkins’ remarks.
Hopkins said about two-thirds of the district’s volunteer guards have received commission cards from the Arkansas State Police authorizing them to serve as armed security, but about a third have not.
"If we get those, then we think everything’s back on go," he said.
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said the agency is waiting on guidance from the Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, which is set to meet Aug. 14.
If the district does not receive the final paperwork, then it may pursue an appeal of the board’s decision, Hopkins said.
Any decision by the board to grant, deny or revoke a license can be appealed to the board, its chairman, Ralph Sims, said Monday.