Due to a recent phone threat, The Watson Chapel School Board voted unanimously at a board meeting Monday night to allow Watson Chapel School District Security Guard Willie Edwards to carry a firearm while on duty.

For security purposes, the WCSD has recently built a circle drive in front of the high school along with gates around the campus.

“Visitors used to enter from the back of the building, and we didn’t know who was coming into the building or when they were coming,” said Superintendent Connie Hathorn.

He went on to add that there were no security measures in place, so they hired a security guard.

Last week, there was a phone threat from someone stating that they were going to “shoot up” the Watson Chapel and Pine Bluff School districts.

“That’s serious,” Hathorn said. “You shouldn’t take anything lightly.”

Hathorn said that he asked WCSD attorney Mike Evans about state law regarding school security guards carrying firearms. Arkansas Code 5-73-119 gives the security guard the right to carry a firearm on school property, Evans said. A copy of the code was provided to all board members.

Edwards was present at the board meeting and informed everyone that he has previously worked as a security guard for V Force Security.

When asked if he had any comments or concerns, Edwards said, “I am licensed to carry, so I don’t have a problem with carrying a firearm. It’s not a matter of bragging rights, it’s a matter of the safety of the students and staff.”

Also in the meeting, an active shooter plan was proposed and approved by the board members.

“In light of some of the school shootings going on around the country, I asked the staff to meet and put together an active shooter plan,” Hathorn said.

Kerri Williams, federal programs coordinator and school improvement specialist, told the board that “We received a lot of parent phone calls saying they wanted to see something in black and white from our district regarding what happens with their children if an active shooting was to occur,” Williams said.

“We met on February 23rd with a representative from each campus to discuss what to do if an active shooting occurred and how to proceed afterwards.”

Williams presented the active shooter packet in its entirety. She said that the district has been through an active shooter drill/training this year and will go through another drill/training in the second semester, where they will be trained as if something has happened and learn how the procedure will flow after law enforcement has arrived.

“There will be a full plan in place during the training, so law enforcement will actually come out, clear the scene, lock everything down, and then move the kids to a safe place where parents can come to pick-up if something were to happen,” Williams said.

Copies of the active shooter plan will be distributed to each staff member, while also being available for the public to view on the WCSD website.

In other news, the board recognized Edgewood Elementary School for receiving an award at the Arkansas Reading Conference that was held in Hot Springs on March 5-6.

Paula Findley, K-12 literacy specialist at the Arkansas River Educational Services Cooperative, announced that Edgewood Elementary is recognized as one of 10 Outstanding R.I.S.E. (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) Schools in Arkansas.

“I am so proud of the Watson Chapel School District and their efforts to promote reading through the R.I.S.E. Initiative,” said Findley. “Congratulations!”

Findley also announced that LaKendra Lovelady, an Edgewood Elementary teacher, has been selected to be a R.I.S.E. (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) Trainer of Trainers. She will be training the K-2 teachers in the WCSD.

Through the R.I.S.E. Initiative, Arkansas encourages a culture of reading by coordinating a statewide reading campaign with community partners, parents, and teachers to establish the importance of reading in homes, schools, and communities.

Makeup days were discussed at the meeting. The WCSD will make up four missed days due to bad weather on May 25, 29, 30 and 31.

In other news, the board voted unanimously for the expulsion of a Watson Chapel Junior High School student. The student will be expelled for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year for allegedly possessing a BB gun with an attached red beam laser. No one was present on behalf of the student.

During the board meeting, Dovie Burl, school culture and climate specialist, announced that the Department of Justice will be visiting the Watson Chapel School District March 14-15 for their annual review of the agreed Consent Decree which was put in place December 2016.

Due to a 1970 civil rights lawsuit for disproportionality and unfair treatment of blacks and minority students in the district, the Department of Justice mandated a change in how students are to be disciplined.

Based on discipline data, the Department of Justice made a visit in November 2015 to WCSD to discuss the number of disciplines of blacks and minority students, including Special Ed students compared to other students.

At that time, corporal punishment was taken out of the district as a means of punitive punishment. A consent decree was established with mandates for the district to implement changes. Those changes include implementing PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports), as well as Restorative Justice Practices, and building stronger relationships with students through RTI (Response to Intervention).

“This year’s district-wide behavior expectation will focus on ROAR (Respectful, Organized, Attentive, and Responsible),” Burl said. “The Roll-out for PBIS began in August 2017, and we are anticipating a good report from the DOJ with all of the initiatives that have been put in place.”

In other news, the district had solicited bids for two 2019 Type C Buses. Bids were received from Central State Bus Sales (North Little Rock), Summit Bus (North Little Rock), and Midwest Bus Sales (Van Buren). The board members approved the purchase of two buses from Central State Bus Sales, Inc., the lowest bidder, for a total amount of $171,990.00. The buses will include air conditioning, tinted windows, pre-installed cameras, etc.

The board announced that the April 9 board meeting will be rescheduled for April 16 due to a conflict with the National School Board Association Annual Conference.