LITTLE ROCK — A state regulatory board reversed itself Wednesday and voted to allow school districts with staff trained and certified to carry a handgun to provide armed security on campus.
Last month, the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies voted to suspend all registrations it had approved previously for school employees in 13 school districts to serve as armed security guards. The board acted after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an Aug. 1 advisory opinion that the board could not legally authorize school employees to carry guns on campus.
The panel heard appeals of the suspensions Wednesday, and though the attorney general’s office maintained its position that schools cannot arm their personnel under current law, the board voted to rescind the suspensions and allow all 13 districts previously approved for such programs to proceed for two years and let the Legislature in 2015 consider the issue.
"The Legislature’s going to have to make some kind of change, some kind of accommodations for a public entity to register their employees as security officers," the board’s chairman, Ralph Sims, told reporters after Wednesday’s board meeting.
The attorney general said in his opinion last month, which was requested by a state legislator, that a state law allows the board to authorize private businesses to train and arm security guards but that school districts are governmental entities, not private businesses, so the law does not apply to them.
Some districts have been arming a small number of employees for years with the board’s authorization, but the law came under scrutiny after the Clarksville School District received national media attention for its plan to arm about 20 teachers and staff starting this fall. The district spent about $70,000 to train and equip employees as security guards, only to have its program blocked just days prior to the beginning of the school year.
Presenting his appeal to the board on Wednesday, Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins said, "We felt like we did our due diligence in trying to ensure before we moved forward that we had checked with all the necessary people to move forward."
Lake Hamilton Superintendent Steve Anderson and Cutter-Morning Star Superintendent Nancy Anderson both testified that they could not afford to replace their armed employees with an equal number of school resource officers.
"This is our only option, and I don’t think it’s fair just because we’re a poor school that our kids don’t get the protection that larger schools get," Nancy Anderson said.
The board initially voted to deny the appeals of the Clarksville and Lake Hamilton districts, but a member who abstained from those votes because he arrived late, Jason Curtis of Ashdown, voted in favor of a motion to let Cutter-Morning Star keep armed personnel for two years, and the motion passed.
After members raised concerns about being inconsistent, the board rescinded its earlier votes and voted to give all 13 districts a two-year grace period.
The board said it would not accept any new applications in the interim and said none of the school districts approved to have armed personnel could add to their numbers.
The final votes were 3-2, with Sims abstaining and one member of the seven-member board absent. Jack Acre of Little Rock, who voted "no," told reporters he does not believe school employees should do the job of armed security guards.
"If you’re a teacher, you can’t teach school and be a security guard," he said.
State Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, whose district includes Clarksville, has said he is willing to sponsor legislation that would allow school districts to arm teachers and staff.