Police & Fire

School safety panel recommends funding to help implement proposals

By ANTOINETTE GRAJEDA | Arkansas Advocate

The Arkansas School Safety Commission approved two recommendations Wednesday aimed at providing funding to support best practices included in the group’s final report, which is due by Oct. 1.

“I don’t think that we can walk away from this table without trying to get our schools some additional financial help because we’re asking them to do a lot and they need some help,” commission chair Cheryl May said. “Some of them need more help than others.”

David Hopkins, Clarksville School District superintendent and member of the Arkansas School Safety Commission.

The first funding-related recommendation is for Arkansas lawmakers to consider recurring funds for school districts to implement the commission’s recommendations.

The second recommendation proposes that additional funding be provided to the Arkansas Center for School Safety to build its capacity to provide training and resources to districts. The center’s website describes it as a partnership of the University of Arkansas’ Criminal Justice Institute and the Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The commission also adopted a recommendation to form a school safety unit within the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education. The unit would ensure districts are appropriately implementing school safety laws, provide support to districts implementing safety recommendations, and assist schools with identifying gaps and the needed resources to fill those gaps.

The recommendation for creating the unit developed out of a conversation around accountability and ensuring schools are aware of the recommendations in the commission’s final report.

Commissioners noted that their recommendations can’t be enforced. Laws can be, but May said it’s unlikely all the recommendations will become law.

This recommendation is about support, not compliance, said Courtney Salas-Ford, DESE chief legal counsel.

“It’s more about providing the support and resources for those school districts that are going to implement these recommendations,” Salas-Ford said. “That there’s not a lack of knowledge as to what the recommendations are or mean, and that they know how they can do that if so.”

Five recommendations proposed by subcommittees also received approval at Wednesday’s meeting.

Two cybersecurity-focused proposals recommended that schools implement vulnerability scanning and testing and that they develop a cybersecurity component within their continuity of operations plans.

A third proposal recommended the creation of a statewide school safety sharing program for cybersecurity incidents and threats.

The commission also approved recommendations for districts to adopt the training and protocols designed to educate community members about responding to an active attack situation and to convene a work group to identify and address gaps in current mental-health support for students.

Providing consistent access to mental health resources to students has been difficult because it’s a shifting landscape, said Clarksville School District Superintendent David Hopkins.

“We’ve had providers that have gone out of business and moved and different things like that that have really disrupted our services over the years, and we’re kind of dealing with that right now,” Hopkins said. “We still have the ability to provide some, but we don’t have the resources that we had just this time last year.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson reinstated the Arkansas School Safety Commission in June following the deaths of 21 students and teachers in a Uvalde, Texas school shooting. The governor released the group’s interim report Aug. 2.

The commission’s next and final planned meeting is Sept. 27.

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