School Safety Commission adopts final proposals before report due date

By: - September 27, 2022 4:45 pm
Arkansas School Safety Commission chair Cheryl May speaks into a microphone while sitting at a table with Gov. Asa Hutchinson

Chair Cheryl May and Gov. Asa Hutchinson discuss the reinstatement of the Arkansas School Safety Commission during a press conference on June 2. (Screenshot of livestream)

The Arkansas School Safety Commission wrapped up four months of work by approving seven more recommendations at its final meeting Tuesday.

Its final report to the governor is due Oct. 1.

Three proposals at Tuesday’s meeting focused on cybersecurity and included recommendations for school districts to implement best practices in third-party risk management and cybersecurity preparedness. The group also recommended that school information technology staff remain up-to-date on cybersecurity best practices through continuing education.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson reinstated the Arkansas School Safety Commission in June following the deaths of 19 students and two teachers in a Uvalde, Texas, school shooting. It was the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history.

Hutchinson created the commission in 2018. The group submitted 30 recommendations in its original 134-page report. The governor tasked the reinstated commission with identifying new recommendations.

Citing a survey about the 2018 recommendations, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder, who also served on the original commission, said there has not been full implementation of past recommendations due to issues like lack of funding, feasibility and lack of support at the local district level.

To encourage more involvement with the anticipated 2022 report’s recommendations, Helder proposed requiring districts to include the implementation status of those recommended best practices in an annual progress report. 

“Many recommendations may never become requirements through legislation or rule, but remain essential considerations for districts,” Helder said. “Including the implementation status of school safety recommendations in a school district’s annual report to the public will promote an ongoing culture of school safety among stakeholders and the community.”

The commission approved that proposal as well as a recommendation that the Safe Schools Committee investigate the feasibility of developing a school safety award program to incentivize districts to implement the commission’s suggestions. The committee is charged with developing policies and procedures that may ensure a safe learning environment, according to the Arkansas Department of Education.

The commission adopted two more proposals Tuesday. The first recommended numbering exterior classroom doors and windows so first responders can more easily identify a location in the event of an active shooter.

The second proposal recommended that districts have access to a system that facilitates student data analysis for identifying at-risk behaviors to allow for early intervention.

Before concluding the group’s final meeting, commission chair Cheryl May, who also chaired the 2018 committee, thanked her colleagues for creating “an incredible comprehensive review.”

“The 2018 commission, we worked for nine months,” May said. “We did a lot, and those of you who were my colleagues on that commission know how hard we worked, but what we’ve accomplished in these four months is just absolutely incredible.”

In previous meetings since June, the commission adopted recommendations that armed personnel always be present on school campuses and proposed other measures to harden schools against intruders, such as locking all doors, interior as well as exterior.

Other recommendations have included:

  • Training for teachers in how to respond to physical threats and to students in mental distress.
  • Joint training programs for law enforcement, first responders and school employees in responding to threats and armed intruders.
  • Required regular training for school personnel in mental health awareness.
  • Required cybersecurity training for anyone who uses a school-supplied electronic device or computer.
  • Training and support for anti-bullying and inclusive-classroom programs.
  • Funding from the state to implement the commission’s recommendations.

The governor released the group’s interim report Aug. 2. A final report is due by Oct. 1. 

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Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate
Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.

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