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The School Safety Commission’s final report to the governor became public Monday afternoon, and includes 30 recommendations, commentary and resources on ways to improve the safety of students and staff around Arkansas.

The 124-page report included recommendations – which are not mandatory – from each of the subcommittees, which focused on mental health and prevention; law enforcement and security; audits, emergency operating plans and drills; intelligence and communications; and physical security.

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Arkansas School Safety Commission final report

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The mental health and prevention subcommittee recommended the districts conduct regular climate surveys, use the survey to adjust plans, train faculty and staff to identify at-risk behavior, create a behavioral threat assessment team and a crisis response team. The subcommittee also recommended a positive climate program to deter bullying and promote positive peer relationships.

When it comes to detering bullying, this school year the El Dorado School District included a section on the district app where students can anonymously report bullying or threats. Superintendent Jim Tucker said the goal is to encourage students who might not otherwise report an incident because of social concerns to have another completely anonymous method to report.

“We still encourage students to really go talk to somebody,” Tucker said. “Go talk to the assistant principal, go talk to the principal, they can come talk to me, go talk to the counselor. Face to face is always the best way, but if they don’t feel comfortable doing that, then this is another option for them.”

The law enforcement and security subcommittee emphasised that “no campus should ever be without an armed presence when staff and child are attending class or a major extra-curricular activity.”

The committee also recommended that school districts consider “strategies that layer and build redundancy for optimal security,” and authorize the use of the certified safety and security officer program of policies, protocols, training and selection to go above the minimum standards required.

While the committee recommended Arkansas’ Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training to look into the feasibility of school districts being allowed to establish their own law enforcement agencies, it also had several recommendations for School Resource Officers (SRO).

Schools should have a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement to identify roles and responsibilities of SROs, SROs who are primarily assigned within the schools should receive specialized training and, when financially practical, schools should have at least one SRO for each campus.

As it is, this year three Union County school districts increased their SRO presence. Over the summer the Smackover-Norphlet school district hired a second full-time SRO, Parkers Chapel hired a part-time SRO and Junction City school district hired an SRO to work between 12 to 20 hours a week. In addition, the Strong school district has a part-time SRO and the El Dorado school district has two full-time SROs.

The audits, emergency operation plans and drill subcommittee recommended that districts be required to form District Safety and Security Teams and designate a school safety coordinator for each campus. Additionally, it recommended a safety assessment be made every three years for the school board and administration to review.

At the individual school level, the subcommittee recommended modifying fire drills to include additional time for teachers to evaluate the situation prior to evacuation, and “school nurses and staff should be trained in efforts that enhance the emergency medical response within schools.”

For instance, over the summer the El Dorado school district offered training to staff and administration on using the bleeding control kits bought with funding from Delek U.S. The training was focused on the use of a tourniquet and different methods to reduce bleeding in the case of an accident.

The intelligence and communication subcommittee recommended creating a communication plan for school officials, students, parents and law enforcement; set up a communication method with local law enforcement, implement and expand reporting strategies; and educate students, staff and parents to recognize at-risk behavior.

Meanwhile, the physical security subcommittee made recommendations focused on improving the buildings of the schools. For districts, it recommended they create an online facility profile within a panic button alert system for each new campus or facility and conduct annual reviews to update the profile, and review updating any old style “crash bar” exterior doors with newer “touch bar” type exit devices.

For the state, the committee recommended the Academic Facilities Partnership Program should “be revised to allow districts to submit eligible campus safety and security upgrade projects for financial assistance.”

“I am pleased that the Commission addressed those concerns in their final report, and I am confident that these recommendations, while not mandatory, will be a useful tool for our superintendents and principals as we seek to better secure our schools and create the safest environment possible for our children, our teachers, and our faculties,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or mshine@eldoradonews.com. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

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