University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

#4 School Safety Concerns Surface in AR

In The View from the OEP on December 18, 2013 at 11:32 am

sandy hookThis December marked the one-year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Last year, Tom Kimbrell issued a statement at that time: “Today is a day of sadness and grief for everyone who cares for children. It is hard to imagine a tragedy such as that experienced in Newtown, Connecticut.” We at the OEP echo these sentiments.

The events at Sandy Hook set off a chain reaction across the nation and also here in Arkansas. In response to school violence, Arkansas law enforcement began developing a committee in early 2013 to prepare a uniform preparedness training plan for active shooter situations that would be available to local school districts.

Some school districts, including Clarksville, wanted to take this plan a step further.  A timeline of events is to follow:

July 2013arming teachers

  • Clarksville created an “Emergency Response Team” complete with training exercises and fake guns. The plan called for arming 20 volunteer teachers and staff.

Superintendent David Hopkins expressed concerns that school shootings keep happening and that schools’ responses are not providing for student safety.

“We’re going to lock the door, and we’re going to hide and hope for the best,” he said. “Well, that’s not a plan.”

Many across the state opposed this plan. Donna Morey, former president of the Arkansas Education Association, described the idea as “awful.”

“The risk of a student accidentally getting shot or obtaining a gun outweighs any benefits,” she says. “We just think educators should be in the business of educating students, not carrying a weapon,” Morey says.

August 2013

staff is trained

September 2013

  • The Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agents reversed its August decision, voting to allow 13 school districts to continue using a licensing law to employ teachers, administrators and other staff as armed security guards. These schools will be allowed to use the licenses for the next two years, but will not accept any more applications from school districts.
  • The New York Times featured Clarksville, Arkansas in their article Guns at School? If There’s a Will, There Are Ways.

October 2013 school bus

  • A knife-wielding man hijacked a school bus in the Little Rock suburb of Jacksonville, AR, taking 11 elementary school children and their bus driver hostage. A ten-mile chase ensued, but fortunately no one was injured. While this incident is not believed to be a premeditated attack on schoolchildren, it was disconcerting nonetheless.

December 2013

  • AR lawmakers will subpoena Jack Acre, new chairman of the board that approved 13 school districts to use school staff as armed guards, to appear before committee members on January 9. Acre recently replaced Ralph Sims, who failed to show up twice when directed by the committee to answer questions about the Board’s decision.

What’s Next in School Safety?

As 2013 wraps up, the Daily Beast is making headlines with its report that 25 school shootings have occurred in the past year, which means that, on average, instances of school violence occur nearly once every two weeks. According to their map, there were no incidents in Arkansas, but there were occurrences in our neighboring states of Missouri, Mississippi and Texas.

Also, according to David Ramsey’s Arkansas Blog, the issue of firearms in public schools is likely to be addressed in February’s abbreviated legislative session. We at the OEP will keep you informed with new developments in this important issue, which falls at #4 on our list of the Top 10 Arkansas Education Stories of 2013.

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