LR dis­trict looks to arm se­cu­rity

Su­per­in­ten­dent sug­gests step

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - AZ­IZA MUSA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Cyn­thia How­ell of the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.

The Lit­tle Rock School Dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion is again propos­ing to arm a part of its se­cu­rity team, the su­per­in­ten­dent said Tues­day.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Mike Poore said the pro­posal would likely go be­fore Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Johnny Key — who acts in lieu of a lo­cally elected school board be­cause the dis­trict is un­der state con­trol — as early as next month. The dis­trict’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and se­cu­rity team are work­ing out the de­tails, in­clud­ing guide­lines and what weapons the se­cu­rity of­fi­cers would carry, said Pam Smith, the dis­trict’s spokesman.

Poore brought up the rec­om­men­da­tion as a long-term se­cu­rity ef­fort dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Tues­day, when he dis­cussed plans for the 24,000-stu­dent dis­trict to ad­dress a na­tional stu­dent walk­out sched­uled to­day. The #Enough Na­tional School Walk­out is both to honor those who were killed one month ago by a gun­man at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla. and to protest gun vi­o­lence.

The shoot­ing has re­vived dis­cus­sions of school safety, not only at the lo­cal and dis­trict lev­els but also at the state level.

On Tues­day, Gov. Asa Hutchin­son’s 18-mem­ber Arkansas School Safety Com­mis­sion met for the first time to or­ga­nize and iden­tify top­ics it will ad­dress. The top­ics will in­clude school se­cu­rity per­son­nel, safety and se­cu­rity au­dits, men­tal health, pre­ven­tion and fa­cil­i­ties.

The group will turn in pre­lim­i­nary rec­om­men­da­tions to him by July 1.

The Women’s March Youth Em­power and the Ad­vance­ment Project are among the na­tional groups push­ing the walk­outs. Or­ga­niz­ers told The As­so­ci­ated Press that nearly 3,000 walk­outs are planned in the big­gest demon­stra­tion of stu­dent ac­tivism af­ter the mas­sacre in Park­land, Fla.

The demon­stra­tions in Arkansas will take dif­fer­ent forms, from in­door as­sem­blies to out­door protests. One Lit­tle Rock dis­trict cam­pus will re­lease 17 bal­loons, Poore said. He would not dis­close what each of the dis­trict’s six high school cam­puses planned to do, cit­ing safety con­cerns, and he noted that he was not aware of any al­ter­na­tive protests.

No stu­dent will be dis­ci­plined for tak­ing part in the demon­stra­tions or protests, he said, adding that the walk­out co­in­cides with a bell change about 10:30 a.m., which is the start of lunch or an­other class pe­riod. If stu­dents are not in their des­ig­nated classes then, the stu­dent will be marked ab­sent.

“I do be­lieve stu­dent voices are re­ally im­por­tant, and that’s not to dis­par­age any other com­mu­nity that made the choices they made,” Poore said. “I’ve al­ways found it of value that when you trust stu­dents, usu­ally that comes back in a very pos­i­tive way.”

The dis­trict has also asked its build­ing lead­ers to be ex­tremely vis­i­ble Wed­nes­day, Poore said. The Lit­tle Rock Po­lice De­part­ment also has a plan in place to en­sure the safety of all stu­dents and fac­ulty, said As­sis­tant Chief Hay­ward Finks.

The Lit­tle Rock dis­trict cur­rently has 79 se­cu­rity of­fi­cers, said Ron Self, the dis­trict’s di­rec­tor of safety and se­cu­rity.

There are 67 as­signed to the mid­dle and high schools. Of that num­ber, 21 are school re­source of­fi­cers — armed Lit­tle Rock po­lice. An­other 46 se­cu­rity of­fi­cers are dis­trict-em­ployed guards at the sec­ondary schools.

Twelve of the 79 se­cu­rity of­fi­cers pa­trol four zones cov­er­ing the 32 el­e­men­taries and early child­hood acad­e­mies.

The dis­trict’s pro­posal would be to arm “se­lect mem­bers” of that 12-mem­ber unit with guns and “non­lethal” weapons that yet to be de­cided, he said. Those guards are not cur­rently armed with any weapons.

If ap­proved, se­lect se­cu­rity guards will un­dergo Com­mis­sioned School Se­cu­rity Of­fi­cer train­ing set forth un­der Act 393 of 2015, Smith said. The dis­trict would also work with a lo­cal com­pany to pro­vide ad­di­tional train­ing to fur­ther en­hance its se­cu­rity pro­gram, she said.

The pro­posal is not the first for the state’s largest school dis­trict.

In early 2013 — then in re­sponse to the De­cem­ber 2012 school shoot­ing in New­town, Conn., where a gun­man killed 20 chil­dren and six adults — the dis­trict’s then-su­per­in­ten­dent Mor­ris Holmes had asked the School Board to pro­vide firearms, train­ing, screen­ing and psy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing for 40 guards, who would have pa­trolled hall­ways and mon­i­tored en­trances at 34 schools. The board did not vote on the mat­ter, as it did not garner a sec­ond mo­tion to move for­ward.

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