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Arkansas School Safety Commission members, working Monday toward a Nov. 30 reporting deadline, honed proposals on crisis prevention, mental health services and emergency planning.

The proposals -- not yet approved by votes of the commission -- include modifying school fire-drill procedures to give school staffs a brief time to assess the cause for a fire alarm before directing students to evacuate a site.

Another proposal refined Monday by the commission calls for all schools to adopt programs that not only deter bullying but also teach behaviors that result in positive relationships among students.

And still another of the proposals calls for all school districts to provide training in Youth Mental Health First Aid to any personnel who interact with students.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed the 18-member commission last March after the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 students and adults by an intruder at a Parkland, Fla., high school. Another 10 people were subsequently shot and killed at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school.

The Arkansas commission of educators, law enforcement personnel and mental health providers -- led by Cheryl May, executive director of the University of Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute -- submitted its preliminary recommendations on improving campus safety to Hutchinson in July.

The group has since been compiling additional information from school tours, from a survey of superintendents and from presentations made by experts and others on school-safety-related topics. The new information is being used to refine and expand what will be a final report and recommendations to the governor.

Besides proposals on crisis intervention and emergency planning, the commission's final recommendations will be in the areas of physical security and transportation, intelligence and communications, and law enforcement/security.

Commission members have scheduled a 9:30 a.m. meeting Friday to continue going through proposed recommendations and supporting information in the different categories.

The proposal to make changes to fire alarms is meant to give school staff time to determine the cause for an alarm and cancel the alarm and evacuation, if warranted. The proposal stems from school shootings in Parkland this year and in the Westside School District near Jonesboro two decades ago when the shooters sounded fire alarm and then shot at students and staff as they left their classrooms and school buildings.

May, the chairman of the commission, questioned commission members about how strongly to word the proposal, to suggest that it should be modified or that a modification should be considered.

"The state fire marshal is completely in agreement with it," May noted about the alteration. "But we have visited at least one school that has said that their local fire marshal does not want them to do that."

Commission member Jami Cook, director of the commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training in Arkansas, said the modification "is just good common sense."

David Hopkins, superintendent of the Clarksville School District, said the commission doesn't have to be tied up with the local fire marshal.

"It is our recommendation, not only to the local school but to whoever reads our report be it the local fire marshal or whoever else, that we think that should be done," Hopkins said. "Now, whether or not it happens, that's up to the local fire marshal, the school and the state fire marshal."

May said that the draft report does call for any modification to responding to an alarm to be discussed with local emergency response officials.

Commission members concluded Monday that the prevention and mental health services recommendations should be the first section of recommendations in the final report.

Commission member Lori Poston, a child and adolescent therapist from Jonesboro, said she thought placement of the section is important because if prevention strategies are successful, the rest of the recommendations won't be as necessary.

The discussion about the order of recommendations in the report comes after discussions at previous meetings about the law enforcement recommendations being prominently featured in the preliminary report. Commission members said that the public perceived the law enforcement section -- including its call for armed security on every campus where there are students -- to be the most important of the report.

"We can't say one section of the report is more important than the other," Hopkins said.

May said that the final report might include language saying that all sections are important and contribute to a comprehensive approach to safety and security.

Other proposals drafted and reviewed by the commission Monday included one calling for a survey of school climate at every campus and action plans based on the findings of the surveys.

Another proposal calls for all school districts to establish a behavior and threat assessment team and process for dealing with threats.

Still another calls on the Arkansas Department of Education to review the roles and responsibilities of school counselors to give them more time to work with students to provide them with counseling and social-emotional instruction and to refer them to appropriate community resources.

The commission is also proposing that a coordinated, post-event response system be established.

"There is not currently anything organized in Arkansas to address recovery," Poston said.

Metro on 11/06/2018

Print Headline: State panel on school safety looks at fire-alarm proposal

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