Safety panel fin­ishes draft­ing school plans

Rec­om­men­da­tions to be sent to gover­nor

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

The Arkansas School Safety Com­mis­sion on Fri­day com­pleted the draft­ing of rec­om­men­da­tions for a fi­nal re­port to the gover­nor on ways to prevent school-re­lated vi­o­lence, as well as de­fend against it and re­cover from it if it hap­pens.

“This is go­ing to be a re­port that’s go­ing to have a big im­pact,” com­mis­sion Chair­man Ch­eryl May, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Arkansas’ Crim­i­nal Jus­tice In­sti­tute, said of the doc­u­ment that is due to Gov. Asa Hutchin­son by Nov. 30. “This is some­thing that can re­ally, re­ally help make a dif­fer­ence.’

The fi­nal re­port, which builds on a pre­lim­i­nary re­port sent to Hutchin­son in July, will in­clude pro­vi­sions and sup­port­ing in­for­ma­tion on men­tal health pro­grams, em­ploy­ment of law en­force­ment and se­cu­rity of­fi­cers, emer­gency plan­ning, com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems and school build­ing se­cu­rity.

The com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions are the re­sult of nu­mer­ous pre­sen­ta­tions from ex­perts and oth­ers in­ter­ested in school safety, a sur­vey of district su­per­in­ten­dents and vis­its to a dozen schools in all parts of the state.

Hutchin­son es­tab­lished the 18-mem­ber com­mis­sion of ed­u­ca­tors, law en­force­ment agents and men­tal-health pro­fes­sion­als in March to make rec­om­men­da­tions on im­prov­ing school se­cu­rity. He did that in the af­ter­math of the Feb. 14 shoot­ing deaths of 17 stu­dents and em­ploy­ees by an in­truder at a Park­land, Fla., high school.

School build­ing and and school bus se­cu­rity mea­sures — and po­ten­tial reveThe

nue sources for them — were a fo­cus at Fri­day’s day­long com­mis­sion meet­ing.

The com­mis­sion voted unan­i­mously to rec­om­mend:

Re­vis­ing the state’s Aca­demic Fa­cil­i­ties Part­ner­ship Pro­gram to en­able school dis­tricts to ap­ply and re­ceive state fi­nan­cial aid to help pay for safety fea­tures — such as fully en­closed walk­ways be­tween build­ings, bal­lis­tic-rated glass and video sur­veil­lance equip­ment — not cur­rently el­i­gi­ble for that state fund­ing.

De­vel­op­ing on the state level for school district use a cus­tom­ized school bus safety ini­tia­tive. That would be done with as­sis­tance from the fed­eral Readi­ness and Emer­gency Man­age­ment for Schools Cen­ter Train­ing As­sis­tance that is un­der the um­brella of the U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Ap­peal­ing to the state’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion and other fed­eral part­ners for help in con­tin­u­ing and ex­pand­ing the fed­eral Ti­tle IV grants to dis­tricts, and al­low­ing that grant money to be used to pay for build­ing se­cu­rity fea­tures.

Up­dat­ing and adding to school and district on­line pro­files — in­clud­ing build­ing lay­outs and lo­ca­tions of doors and win­dows — for use by emer­gency re­spon­ders in the case of prob­lems at schools.

No­ti­fy­ing the Arkansas Di­vi­sion for Pub­lic School Aca­demic Fa­cil­i­ties and Trans­porta­tion in ad­vance about any plans for in­stalling tem­po­rary bar­ri­cade de­vices that are meant to prevent in­trud­ers from en­ter­ing a class­room but also have the po­ten­tial to hin­der en­try into a space by emer­gency re­spon­ders or di­min­ish the fire code rat­ing for doors.

Re­plac­ing old-style “crash­bars” on school doors go­ing to the out­doors with newer exit de­vices.

Re­vis­ing the Arkansas Pub­lic School Aca­demic Fa­cil­i­ties Manual to pro­vide spe­cific safety and se­cu­rity op­tions for school sys­tems to con­sider in the de­sign and con­struc­tion of new aca­demic spa­ces.

Brad Mont­gomery, a School Safety Com­mis­sion mem­ber and the di­rec­tor of the state Di­vi­sion for Pub­lic School Aca­demic Fa­cil­i­ties and Trans­porta­tion, of­fered the dif­fer­ent pro­pos­als for the com­mis­sion’s ap­proval.

His pre­sen­ta­tion to the com­mis­sion in­cluded pho­to­graphs of chain-locked or oth­er­wise barred school doors from around the state that prevent the egress of stu­dents and school staff in the event of a fire or other emer­gency in which evac­u­a­tion is war­ranted. Cur­rently, his di­vi­sion in­spec­tors won’t leave a school where those locks are in place un­til they are un­locked by the cus­to­di­ans or school prin­ci­pals who have the keys, he said. That is fol­lowed up by di­vi­sion staff with a call to a lo­cal fire mar­shal.

“It’s not an ap­pro­pri­ate method be­cause it blocks egress com­pletely,” Mont­gomery said, re­fer­ring to chains and other im­ped­i­ments. “Our di­vi­sion has long wanted a so­lu­tion to this prob­lem,” he said, adding that ef­forts to im­prove school se­cu­rity will be able to help with that.

As for the pos­si­bil­ity of fed­eral Ti­tle IV grants, Mont­gomery said that the fund­ing was about to be elim­i­nated un­til the school shoot­ings

May, chair­man of the safety com­mis­sion, high­lighted part of the re­port draft that notes that each of Arkansas’ more than 1,000 school cam­puses is unique and that safety mea­sures that are ap­pro­pri­ate for some will not be ap­pro­pri­ate for oth­ers.

hap­pened ear­lier this year in Park­land, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas. Arkansas re­ceived about $4 mil­lion in fund­ing last year, he said, which has been in­creased to $11 mil­lion this year and made avail­able for phys­i­cal se­cu­rity equip­ment pur­chases. He said he’d like to see the fund­ing con­tinue.

Ear­lier Fri­day, Arkansas State Po­lice Maj. Lind­sey Wil­liams, the state’s fire mar­shal, ad­dressed the com­mis­sion about the dan­gers of cer­tain bar­ri­cades and lock­ing de­vices, some very rudi­men­tary, that can be used to block a dan­ger­ous in­truder from en­try into a school class­room but also prevent emer­gency re­spon­ders from get­ting to an emer­gency — such as a hostage sit­u­a­tion — in a class­room.

There are dead­bolt/lever han­dle door locks in which out­side ac­cess into a class­room locked from the in­side is pos­si­ble, he said. The av­er­age cost for that kind of lock is about $300 a door, he said.

One of the com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions is that school sys­tems re­vise their fire alarm re­sponse poli­cies to al­low school staff a short time to as­sess the rea­son for an alarm be­fore di­rect­ing stu­dents to evac­u­ate a class­room. Com­mis­sion mem­bers said ear­lier this week that some lo­cal fire mar­shals ob­ject to the de­lay.

Wil­liams said Fri­day that he be­lieves a ma­jor­ity of fire mar­shals and chiefs would be sup­port­ive of the pro­posal and that most con­cerns could be ad­dressed through di­a­logue and ed­u­ca­tion.

May, chair­man of the safety com­mis­sion, high­lighted part of the re­port draft that notes that each of Arkansas’ more than 1,000 school cam­puses is unique and that safety mea­sures that are ap­pro­pri­ate for some will not be ap­pro­pri­ate for oth­ers. She also said that the school shoot­ing deaths that have oc­curred na­tion­ally are ev­i­dence that views on school safety must go be­yond monthly fire drills and sur­face ma­te­rial un­der a swing set.

The com­mis­sion’s most pub­li­cized rec­om­men­da­tion, dat­ing back to the pre­lim­i­nary re­port in July, is that no cam­pus should be with­out an armed pres­ence when staff and chil­dren are at­tend­ing class or a ma­jor ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity.

“I know this is a light­ning rod,” Wash­ing­ton County Sher­iff Tim Helder told the com­mis­sion about the pro­posal that was among the many pro­pos­als for­mally ap­proved Fri­day for the fi­nal re­port.

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