Arkansas School Safety Board Chairman Says Improved Reporting System Needed

In response to last week’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Arkansas will reassess its school safety policies. Governor Asa Hutchinson plans to review a report prepared in 2018 by the Arkansas School Safety Commission, which he formed by executive order in response to a shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Hutchinson says he wants to meet with Cheryl May, chair of the commission and director of the Criminal Justice Institute, to discuss the recommendations provided in the 124-page report.

“I will work with Commission Chair Dr. Cheryl May and Education Secretary Johnny Key to reinforce these recommendations to ensure school districts are as safe as possible,” Hutchinson said in a statement. written last Wednesday. “There is nothing more important than the safety of our children.”

In an interview with KUAR News, May said lawmakers had passed bills in previous legislative sessions based on the committee’s recommendations. Some of the laws provide for the training of School Resource Officers (RSOs) to act as prevention specialists, in addition to their law enforcement roles.

“They need a program called Mental Health First Aid for Youth. This is a program that aims to identify children who have mental health or addiction problems. It’s designed for kids ages 6 to 18,” May said.

Based on the commission’s findings, May said the state has also changed the role of guidance counselors.

“A bill was passed in 2019 that ensured that 90% of the school counselor’s time was actually spent interacting with students, instead of an administrative setting,” May said.

One thing that can be done to improve school safety is to adopt a statewide network for reporting threats, similar to what has been implemented in Utah and Colorado, explained May.

“The bottom line is that most of the calls they get are about kids having a mental health crisis and the harm is not being done to others, but to themselves,” May said. “Being able to have mental health professionals who, when these reports come in and can reach these children, is critically important.”

She added that it can be difficult to assess threats to schools without a statewide reporting system.

“Most school shooters talk to someone about them before committing to the event they are proclaiming. It is important to be able to identify these threats and assess them,” May said.

Recommendations from the 2018 commission report also included that no campus should ever be without an armed presence when children or staff were present, efforts to address mental health issues, training for all staff who interact with students, the implementation of plans to respond to various difficult situations and to improve the physical security of school buildings.

As these are all recommendations, local school authorities are allowed to decide what to implement. In his written statement, Hutchinson said many of the suggestions have been implemented by school districts.

KUAR News reached out to Hutchinson’s office to see if there were any specific topics he wanted to discuss with May and Key or when they would meet. The office did not immediately respond.

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