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Ten armed, commissioned school security officers are joining the employee ranks in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District.

The district's School Board voted 6-0 Wednesday to hire the 10 armed security officers -- all of whom have completed the psychological testing, background checks and 60 hours of training that are required by the state law that authorizes the arming of school employees as a way to defend students and staff from attackers.

The Jacksonville/North Pulaski board members approved the hiring of the commissioned safety officers after a short executive session and without any public discussion at a special meeting during which they also viewed design plans for a new middle school.

The 10 commissioned school security officers, along with the district's safety and security director, Chris Oldham, will cover the district's eight campuses, including an early childhood center and a new alternative education site. Oldham is a former police officer and now a commissioned security officer, raising the total of commissioned officers in the system to 11.

The commissioned officers will cover the school sites along with two school resource officers from the Jacksonville Police Department who are assigned to Jacksonville High and Jacksonville Middle School and a Pulaski County sheriff's deputy assigned to Bayou Meto Elementary.

More than half of the new commissioned officers were previously employed by the Jacksonville district as security staff members, Oldham said. The district continues to employ unarmed security officers, as well.

All of the commissioned security officers are full-time security detail and are not classroom teachers or other instructional personnel, Superintendent Bryan Duffie said.

State law does allow for instructional staff members to be commissioned security officers and that is a practice in some other districts in the state.

"I'm just not an advocate for doing that for my system," Duffie said Wednesday. "I want security to be their full-time job. But it works for other systems and I'm not discrediting what they do. It works for them and that's great."

Duffie previously worked as superintendent of the Westside Consolidated School District near Jonesboro, which was among the first districts in Arkansas to arm employees for school security.

While the proposed employment of armed security officers has been controversial in the nearby Little Rock School District, that has not been the case in the Jacksonville district where the matter has been talked about for almost a year.

In September, the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Board unanimously approved a pay schedule for commissioned security officers that exceeds the pay rates for the district's unarmed security officers. The district also will provide a stipend to the commissioned officers for the purchase of their weapons and related supplies.

In contrast, Little Rock School District staff members have proposed to the district's Community Advisory Board that four armed commissioned security officers be employed to patrol the much larger district with a particular focus on the elementary schools. Armed Little Rock police officers are assigned as school resource officers at the district's middle and high schools. The plan for commissioned patrol officers -- which has drawn opposition from community members and organizations -- is on the agenda for further discussion at the advisory board's 5:30 p.m. meeting today.

The Jacksonville district has about 3,900 students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

The 10 commissioned school security officers hired by the district on Wednesday are Foster Baker, Timothy Clark, Jeffery Cross, Schawanda Daugherty, Stanley Floyd, Gregory Garling, Edward Moore, Christopher Teague, Willie Thomas and Johnanthony Walker.

In regard to a new middle school, WER Architects/Planners has designed a two-story, 112,000-square foot structure for 850 students -- and can be expanded -- to replace the existing middle school that was once North Pulaski High School.

The new middle school will be on the Linda Lane site of the former Jacksonville High building that will be demolished over the next several months.

Construction will start on the new middle school as soon as possible but probably in January, Tony Curtis of Baldwin & Shell Construction Co., said.

While work on the middle school will start first, a new elementary school will be built alongside the middle school. Both are scheduled for an August 2021 opening in a district that is in the midst of replacing all of its campuses in an effort to achieve unitary status and release from court supervision in a long-running, federal school desegregation lawsuit.

Metro on 07/18/2019

Print Headline: Central Arkansas school district hires armed officers

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