Arkansas school systems are making efforts to improve student and staff safety based on a state commission's preliminary recommendations in July for increasing campus security, commission members learned Thursday.
The changes, according to the newly released results of a recent survey of school districts, are in the areas of physical security of buildings, emergency planning, connecting to law enforcement agencies, mental-health support and, to a lesser extent, the employment of law enforcement and/or other security personnel.
The 57-question survey results also show there are 122 school resource officers, who are active law enforcement officers assigned to campuses, in the 135 districts that responded to the questionnaire.
The survey was sent to the 235 traditional public school districts, generating a 57 percent response rate.
Twenty of the 135 responding school districts -- 14.8 percent -- are using commissioned school security officers who are armed district employees other than school resource officers. Another 13 districts said they are using "other" armed security.
Upon further questioning, 25 of 36 responders said they have armed administrators, and 16 of the 36 said they have armed classroom teachers/aides. A total of 15 districts said they have armed classified staff members such as custodians, and 15 of the 35 responding districts said they have armed full-time security personnel.
Cheryl May, director of the University of Arkansas' Criminal Justice Institute and chairman of the 18-member School Safety Commission, applauded the survey results at Thursday's commission meeting, saying the survey produced good information and was worth doing.
The data on the status of student and staff safety efforts in Arkansas' public schools will be included in the commission's final school safety report and recommendations that are due Nov. 30 to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson established the commission of educators, law enforcement officers and mental-health professionals last March in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 slaying of 17 students and adults at a Parkland, Fla., high school by a campus intruder. Just a few weeks later 10 people were killed in a shooting by an intruder at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
The Arkansas survey created by commission members questioned whether districts have made or plan to make any changes based on the commission's preliminary report in July.
More than 75 percent of the 135 responding districts -- 97 districts -- planned changes in the physical security of their school buildings. Fifty-nine percent of districts were carrying out or anticipating changes in emergency operations, drills and safety audits. And 57 percent said that changes were in the works in terms of law enforcement and security personnel.
In the areas of physical security for school buildings, 79 of the responding districts said their school buildings do not have a single entryway with a protected vestibule, which has been a recommendation of the commission.
Only 16 districts reported having bullet-rated, anti-shatter glass at the campus reception desk; 106 districts reported they didn't have electronic access controls on exterior school doors, and 113 don't have vehicle-ram protection at the school entrances.
But the majority of responders -- 125 -- said they have video surveillance that allows administrators to view large common areas and corridors. Ninety-six districts said they use a visitor management system at the school's reception desk; and about 96 percent said that some or all classroom doors can be locked from the inside the classroom.
A total of 133 districts -- almost 98 percent -- reported that they have a safety or emergency operations plan and that they coordinate with local law enforcement agencies on safety plans and active threat/shooter drills.
Almost 96 percent -- 130 districts -- said they have a standard process of communicating a threat to a school to law enforcement agencies.
A total of 116 districts, nearly 86 percent, said their districts make use of the RAVE Panic Button that allows for notification to police of a threat through an application on school employee phones. However, only 17 percent -- or 22 districts -- said their districts would absorb the cost of the panic button if state government discontinued paying for it.
Seventy-five of the responding districts do not use an anonymous reporting system regarding threats to a school.
Commission members were alarmed that more districts do not have plans for quick notification of students, parents and staff members in the event of emergencies. Only seven districts reported a plan for notifying students; 48 districts have a way to notify parents, and 63 districts have a system for notifying staff in the event of emergency.
Marvin Burton, deputy superintendent of the Little Rock School District and a commission member, said the Capital City system notifies students as well as parents and staff members. Failure to notify staff members in particular creates a danger to staff members and students, he said.
Of the districts that do have a notification system, phone texts and emails are the most commonly used means of that notice, with 90 districts using a text system and almost 68 percent -- 78 districts -- using email.
Commission members were particularly interested in the results to questions about the availability of mental-health services for school students.
Slightly better than 64 percent -- 85 districts -- reported "adequate access" to mental health services. But only 28 percent, or 37 responders, reported having a tool to use to identify the mental health and emotional needs of students in a classroom. Only 27 percent of the responding districts -- 36 -- reported using a specific anti-bullying program.
Also of interest to commission members was the fact that the majority of districts do not have a system of assessing the school climate, nor do they have a specific system for assessing a threat with the school. However, a majority of districts, 85, do have an identified team of school-affiliated personnel to address identified threats.
Doug Bradberry, operations manager in the Arkansas Department of Education's commissioner's office as well as the state agency's liaison to the commission, said that the state will distribute a school climate assessment system to school districts in early 2019 for use by the districts.
Lori Poston, a mental-health professional from Jonesboro and a commission member, urged that the state-funded system include help to school districts on how to analyze and act on the results of that system.
Metro on 10/05/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas panel's survey offers look at school security efforts