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story.lead_photo.caption State Education Commissioner Johnny Key (center) is shown in this file photo with Greg Rogers (left), the department’s assistant commissioner for fiscal and administrative services, and Duncan Baird, state budget administrator. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The state's education commissioner, Johnny Key, said Tuesday he's putting together a working group in the Department of Education to review safety in Arkansas' schools.

He said the group is a response to various school shootings across the nation, and "coming up, we've got the anniversary of Jonesboro West Side [Middle School]" shootings, which took place March, 24, 1998.

In response to a question from Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, Key told lawmakers he has notified the University of Arkansas System's Criminal Justice Institute that he is committing about $160,000 in discretionary federal funds to the institute's Center for School Safety.

The center provides education, training, resources and technical assistance to Arkansas educators and law enforcement professionals to assist them in providing children with a safe environment to reach their academic potential, according to its website.

"Obviously, this is not necessarily ongoing [funding], but with the changes at the federal level of what they are looking at with Title IV, we don't know what is going to be available on the federal side," he told the Joint Budget Committee. Title IV funds are grants used to provide student support and academic enrichment activities.

"I have tasked Mr. Don Kaminar with pulling together a working group and also including the facilities division because the design of schools has a direct impact on school safety, so we are going to be looking at that very carefully in the coming months to see what we can do," Key said. He later said the working group will include school health officials. Kaminar is a security and loss prevention manager at the Department of Education and a retired Army Reserve infantry colonel.

Key said the group will look at recommendations made when Asa Hutchinson, now governor, led a National Rifle Association school security task force in 2013.

Douglas told fellow lawmakers, "We need to challenge us as the Legislature to look at this seriously and find some money in the budget to fund those areas that can provide some prevention and some school safety, some peace of mind for parents and students."

-- Michael R. Wickline

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