LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas School Safety Commission issued its preliminary report Tuesday and recommends that every school always have an armed presence, including a trained resource officer whenever financially feasible.
The report also calls for increased mental health resources for students, anti-bullying programs, changes to school infrastructure and mandatory school safety assessments verified by the state every three years. Except to recommend more armed guards, the commission did not address gun access or control.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who formed the commission following the school shooting earlier this year in Parkland, Florida, supported the panel’s 19 recommendations. Hutchinson said increasing armed officers and improving mental health services for students were two issues he found “exceptionally important.”
But he provided few specifics on cost. He said many of the recommendations do not require additional funding, but the state will likely look at ways to provide financial aid for more armed officers and increased mental health services.
Beyond official armed school officers, the commission suggests “hardening” schools in other ways, like “using current or retired officers or deputies as substitute teachers” and increasing officers’ “traffic and visibility on campus.”
Hutchinson said teachers will not be required to carry guns, but emphasized that each school needs at least one armed person on staff.
The panel also suggested increasing mental health resources for students and noted that a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control indicated Arkansas students lead the nation in a host of high risk categories, such as bullying, sexual violence, and suicide attempts.
Hutchinson said improving students’ mental health is a priority when studying school safety incidents.
“Not all, but many, are accompanied by incidences of mental health issues and it’s important that in our schools, that you have mental health counselors that are available for the students,” he said.
The report also suggested altering school infrastructure to increase security through measures like installing bullet resistant glass and providing safe rooms.
Hutchinson said that while there will be some leeway for districts implementing the recommendations, some changes will be required.
The panel is composed of 18 law enforcement and school officials, mental health professionals and parents. In its report, the commission said it has consulted with “subject matter experts, school resource officers, school administrators, school board members, teachers, law enforcement executives and the general public,” and visited Arkansas schools.
Its final report is due November 30.