The Pine Bluff School District announced at a recent board meeting security measures that will be taken. Superintendent Michael Robinson and PBHS Principal Kenneth Moore met with police agencies to have an active shooter drill implemented district wide.

I would be grateful that a teacher was armed if there was an emergency, but in all honesty, the notion concerns me greatly. I don’t think this is the answer, but I do think that trained armed professionals would be a great deterrent and could reduce the number of casualties, but even that is not the answer.

Dollarway Superintendent Barbara Warren

The recent massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 died has been a painful reminder to many about how the problem of school shootings in America needs to be acknowledged.

According to theguardian.com, there have been eight shootings at U.S. schools that have resulted in injury or death just eight weeks into 2018.

With safety being a major concern for many in education today, schools in Jefferson County are re-examining their current security and making changes — if needed — while taking steps of preparation in case of an emergency.

Most school officials say they are doing everything possible to make sure children are safe when they come to class each day.

Barbara Warren, Dollarway School District Superintendent, said they are in the process of evaluating their school security systems and are budgeting to invest in a new digital district-wide system.

“We had already placed greater emphasis this year on secure entrances and exits requiring all traffic to come through the front door,” said Warren. “We work closely with the Pine Bluff Police Department and our School Resource Officers (SRO’s) to reduce the response time to any matters that might arise. We are trying to be diligent about daily security measures.”

Warren said that the district recently revisited their crisis plan, and they also have a very active Wellness Committee that keeps safety matters on the agenda and engages their community partners and resources in safety discussions.

Scott Kuttenkuler, vice president of student affairs at Southeast Arkansas College, said that safety evaluations are a constant and ongoing process for the school.

“Because of the reality of the world we live in, the role of identifying and improving the safety of the campus community will never be complete,” said Kuttenkuler. “Our efforts to ensure campus safety include 24-hour armed security on campus, and we are currently auditing our camera systems to identify any additional potential security needs. We have added more security cameras and expanded the ability for faculty to lock classrooms from inside.”

Kuttenkuler said that they’ve conducted mandatory active shooter training for faculty and staff and will be conducting active shooter training for students this spring. The college has also redesigned their emergency alert system to provide more timely and efficient notifications of campus emergencies.

“We as an institution will never feel we have done enough and we will not stop moving forward to make the campus safer,” he said.

The Watson Chapel School District is always looking for better ways to keep the students and staff safe, officials there said.

All of the schools in the district have been through the active shooter drill, and they recently constructed a circle drive in front of the high school, so the entrance to the campus parking lot is secured.

“Before the shooting in Florida, we had already scheduled a security meeting for Feb. 23 during our Professional Development Day,” said Connie Hathorn, Superintendent of the Watson Chapel School District. “At that time we will discuss all security measures.”

The Pine Bluff School District announced at a recent board meeting security measures that will be taken. Superintendent Michael Robinson and PBHS Principal Kenneth Moore met with police agencies to have an active shooter drill implemented district wide.

“Due to the recent events we have seen in the news and due to the recent event at (the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), we understand that those things can happen at any time and we don’t want to be caught off guard,” said Moore.

A now-former instructor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was arrested Feb. 15 after he reportedly left a message saying that he was “about to become an active shooter.”

Joseph Howard Trotter, 67, left the message on the direct line of UAPB Police Chief Maxcie Thomas, according to a probable cause affidavit Thomas submitted to prosecutors that was presented in district court. The directory for UAPB identified Trotter as working in the Biology Department.

Thomas was contacted regarding campus security and safety, but no response was given prior to the deadline for this article’s submission.

The White Hall School District updates and discusses policies every year.

“When (events) like this (recent school shooting) happen, something new is learned, so we always go back and reevaluate,” said Superintendent Doug Dorris.

An article on billboard.com reported that authorities said the Florida high school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, had a string of run-ins with school authorities that ended with his expulsion. Police also were repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood. Cruz’s lawyers said there were repeated warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent. Yet he legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.

Pine Bluff schools have procedures to follow when threats are made, along with help being available to students who show signs of mental illness.

The Dollarway School District has a Crisis Plan that outlines the chain of communication that includes making the building and district leaders aware of any threats.

“We immediately involve law enforcement, follow the plan for securing the environment, communicate with our stakeholders, and request the support of other community agencies and partners as necessary,” said Warren.

She said that they have school counselors on the front line providing direct support and connection to resources for students who show signs of mental illness. The district works each day with mental health providers who provide services to their clients on campus. Dollarway also has a Behavior Specialist that provides intervention support for young people demonstrating a need for extra help.

“We depend greatly on our local network of mental health professionals,” said Warren.

The Watson Chapel School District encourages students and staff to report threats to a Resource Officer or administrator immediately.

“The student is escorted to the office and is informed that an allegation has been made, and an investigation will be conducted,” said Hathorn. “If the building administrator and Resource Officer determine that the investigation revealed credible information, disciplinary action will be taken by the school and law enforcement.”

The White Hall School District notifies the principal and the police when a threat is made. They have someone on staff that comes once a week to visit with children that have mental issues. Counselors are told “if you notice something, get help as soon as possible,” said Doug Dorris. Parents are notified and help is provided by physicians.

According to the Billboard article, the Senate is also considering boosting spending on mental health programs for schools and giving law enforcement greater power to involuntarily hold someone considered a danger to him or herself. The body will also look at a proposal to deputize a teacher or someone else at school so the person is authorized to have a gun.

When asked for thoughts on arming the faculty and staff, many had mixed emotions on the subject.

“I would be grateful that a teacher was armed if there was an emergency, but in all honesty, the notion concerns me greatly,” said Warren. “I don’t think this is the answer, but I do think that trained armed professionals would be a great deterrent and could reduce the number of casualties, but even that is not the answer.”

Kuttenkuler said, “Legislation was passed last year making concealed carry (with enhanced training) allowable on college campuses. While we (SEARK) comply with this law, the decision to carry is up to the individual.”

“It (arming teachers) is one of most ridiculous suggestions I ever heard as an educator, too much liability,” said Hathorn.

Dorris said:

“One part says we ought to, and the other part says it’s a liability to the teachers,” he said. “It’s a deterrent. You have to be very selective about who’s armed with a weapon. When police come in and see a gun out, there’s no telling what will happen. You have to be very careful and think about what’s safe for everyone.”