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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVE PEROZEK Steve Vera, the Bentonville School District's safety director, addresses the School Board on Monday about a plan to give school security officers the ability to carry guns on campus if they go through prescribed training. The board approved the plan, 6-0.

BENTONVILLE -- The School Board unanimously agreed Monday to let high school security officers carry guns on campus if they complete the required training.

Allowing commissioned school security officers will provide an "extra layer of protection" at the high schools and represents one more step toward improving safety in the School District, said Superintendent Debbie Jones.

Training

A person must complete 60 hours of initial training to become a comissioned school security officer. The commission expires two years after it’s issued. Additional training must be completed to sustain the commission.

Source: Staff Report

Bentonville High School and West High School already have one or two police officers, called student resource officers, who carry guns on campus.

Both schools also have two unarmed security officers. Those security officers now may carry guns if they have military or law-enforcement experience and they complete 60 hours of initial training, plus additional training over time.

Several of Arkansas' 238 traditional school districts, as allowed by Act 393 of 2015, have armed staff members who undergo the 60 hours of training. Bentonville intends to allow only its security officers to carry guns.

"We are not arming teachers," said Steve Vera, the district's security director. "That will not happen."

Board member Rebecca Powers asked Vera if the district has any plans to install commissioned school security officers at any of the other schools. That possibility will be evaluated in the future, Vera said.

Of the four security officers at the two high schools, three are eligible to become commissioned because of their background in law enforcement or the military, Vera said.

Once they complete the required training, their pay will be bumped up by $2 per hour. The total cost of each commissioned security officer -- including salary, benefits and a stipend for weapon purchase -- will be $27,515 per year.

"Maybe nobody else thinks like this, but $27,515 for someone to protect my student, my baby, my angel, all of our students, every day ... is like nothing," said Rebecca Powers, a board member.

Two community members and district parents used time allotted for public comment to speak about the issue at the start of Monday's meeting. They urged the board to take their time and not rush into a decision on commissioned security officers.

Jones said there was no rush in the administration's recommendation. Administrators have studied Act 393 and what other districts have done with it, Jones said.

"We watched other districts go here and we've studied this," she said. "It was not something that was done short-sighted."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson formed a school safety commission in March after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

The commission last month wrapped up the first stage of its work, producing a preliminary report that calls in part for every school campus to have some form of armed security when children and staff members are present.

The Bentonville School District has taken other steps to improve safety and security. The district last year established an anonymous tip line for students and community members to report suspicious activity to authorities. The board also agreed earlier this year all high school students should be required to wear district-issued identification badges starting this fall.

Joe Quinn, a board member, said Monday's decision represented a "piece of an ongoing process" and added he's proud of the board for the decisions it has made.

"I think we're doing everything we possibly can to avoid a horrible day and I think we are being thoughtful and I think we are taking our time," Quinn said.

NW News on 07/17/2018

Print Headline: Bentonville School Board OKs armed security officers

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