LR district looks to arm security
Superintendent suggests step
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.