Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Preliminary recommendations from the Arkansas School Safety Commission call for armed security at every school when children and staff are present.
It's a goal with which Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who created the commission, agrees. But the cost, he said, should be borne primarily by school districts and law enforcement agencies.
That's the way security has been handled in the past and the governor sees that burden staying with the schools and local police agencies.
The preference is clearly for trained school resource officers, paid personnel who work for the schools and/or police agencies.
But not all districts or local law enforcement agencies can afford that protection.
So, as his commission has suggested, schools might turn to armed volunteers specially trained to carry weapons in the schools. They call them "school security officers," volunteers who would be commissioned after appropriate training.
Those volunteers could be existing school personnel, including teachers and administrators and other staff.
That's the problem.
While some would accept such responsibility, others want nothing to do with it.
What educator entered the profession with the expectation they might need to carry a weapon in school? Or that they might have to use that weapon?
What young person, considering a career in education, will make that choice under these circumstances?
Finding future teachers could be particularly problematic if a school is in a poorer district or in such a small district that it is impractical for the district, the city or county to provide a resource officer on every campus. Unfortunately, much of rural Arkansas fits the description.
Other factors, including pay levels and increasing administrative demands, already deter recruitment of educators and cause some teachers to leave the work early.
A new expectation that some of them must volunteer to provide armed security won't help attract or retain them.
Nevertheless, there is an ever-increasing call for greater security in the schools, including by educators.
A better answer is more paid, trained school resource officers but without the expectation that the full cost will be shouldered by the schools and local law enforcement.
The state government must accept some responsibility for providing resource officers, even if it means tapping taxpayers for new money. At least that option ought to be part of the continuing conversation.
Also, the recommendations from the School Safety Commission don't end with the call for armed security. The commission has also emphasized school safety audits, emergency planning, mental health services, threat assessments and fortifying school buildings.
None of those elements has drawn as much attention as armed security, although Gov. Hutchinson has said he is open to the idea of the state providing some funding toward implementing recommended mental health practices.
That's good news. The mental health aspect may help identify and address potential problems well before they escalate to the sort of active shooter situation that is driving the new focus on armed security.
It was, of course, the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school resulting in 17 deaths that prompted Hutchinson to name the commission and restart the discussion of school security in Arkansas.
Importantly, all of the commission's recommendations and the governor's reactions, for that matter, are preliminary.
A final report is due in November from the commission and the governor will presumably still be readying any administrative response.
There's still time for Arkansas to get this right, putting responsibility for armed school security in the hands of real law enforcement personnel and concentrating on prevention at least as seriously as on intervention.
Commentary on 07/11/2018
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