Little Rock School District advised not to arm officers

Panel votes 7-0 but final call up to state education chief

FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

Armed, commissioned school security officers will not be part of the Little Rock School District's employee pool if the state's education secretary heeds the recommendation of the Community Advisory Board.

The advisory board voted 7-0 Thursday with little discussion to direct district Superintendent Mike Poore to "cease" consideration of a proposal for arming 10 of the system's security officers, including the district's director of school security and four security officers who each patrol a circuit of elementary schools.

Reader poll

Should the Little Rock School District arm its security officers?

  • Yes 60%
  • No 40%

120 total votes.

Ultimately, any final decision on the armed security officers will be made by Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key, who acts in place of an elected school board in the state-controlled school district.

The advisory board acted on the commissioned security officers proposal, which has been percolating for several months, at a meeting Thursday during which it also voted to recommend to Key that he approve a district policy banning employee use of medical marijuana on school property.

Existing Arkansas law allows public school district employees to be armed -- conditioned on meeting 60 hours of training and other requirements regarding background checks and psychological evaluations -- for the purpose of defending students and staff members from violent attackers.

Other Arkansas districts such as Clarksville and Westside Consolidated in Jonesboro have used commissioned school security officers for several years.

The School Board for the nearby Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District approved earlier this week the employment of 10 commissioned school security officers for its eight campuses.

Advisory board member Melanie Fox made the motion to halt consideration of the measure in Little Rock and focus instead on other recommendations made by the Governor's School Safety Commission in a multifaceted report last year. That motion was seconded by Anthony Hampton.

Advisory board Chairman Jeff Wood invited anyone on the board or in the audience who wanted to speak for or against the motion to do so, but he got no takers.

"I think it is in the best interest of the Little Rock School District to approve the motion," Poore said. "I want you to understand, and I want the community to understand that just because it is a challenging topic that doesn't mean we shouldn't bring it in here at different times for discussion and involving the community.

"The more difficult the decision, the more engagement you should have," he said.

Wood said he hoped other school safety measures -- including the possible appointment of Little Rock police officers as school resource officers to elementary school campuses -- will be explored.

After the vote, Anika Whitfield a community activist, noted to the advisory board that several organizations, including Grassroots Arkansas and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, had joined together to oppose the arming of district employees.

In a letter to the advisory board sent before the meeting, the groups had offered alternatives such as implementing a restorative justice program, increasing student access to counselors and other mental health professionals, and providing stress relieving activities for students and staff members.

The Little Rock district proposal had called for arming 10 staff members -- none of whom are campus security officers assigned to single campuses. Four of the security officers to be armed would be roving school security patrol officers, according to the proposal. Also to be armed would be two investigators in the school district's security department, along with three supervisors and department Director Ron Self.

The 10 armed employees would be in addition to the district's long-standing practice of using school resource officers -- who are armed Little Rock police officers -- at all of the district's middle and high schools. The school district and the city split the cost of those law enforcement officers.

Little Rock School District leaders first raised the possibility of arming some of its security department last year in the aftermath of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting deaths of 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school.

The advisory board's approval of a policy proposal prohibiting employee use of medical marijuana on school district property will now go to Key for final action.

The recommended policy notes that the district is obligated to comply with federal law, and so marijuana is not allowed on district property or in any district vehicle, regardless of a person's status as a legal holder of a state medical marijuana license.

Arkansas voters in 2016 approved Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution legalizing the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes if doctors have certified that a patient suffers from any of the 18 conditions that qualify for holding a marijuana registry card.

Metro on 07/19/2019