Arkansas safety panel backs arming school employees

(File Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas safety panel has endorsed recommendations that favor arming school district employees who volunteer to undergo training and psychological testing.

The Arkansas School Safety Commission on Monday accepted its law-enforcement subcommittee’s proposed strategy of using “commissioned school security officers” for inclusion in recommendations to Gov. Asa Hutchinson later this month, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported . Commissioned school security officers are school employees, sometimes teachers, who volunteer to be armed on the job.

The commission also accepted the proposed expanded use of school resource officers, who are armed law enforcement officers assigned to school campuses, and the hiring of current or retired law enforcement officers as substitute teachers at a school.

Hutchinson appointed the 18-member commission earlier this year after the Feb. 14 school shooting that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida.

The commission is made up of law enforcement personnel, educators and mental health professionals. The group’s goal is to propose ways to prevent, protect, respond and recover in the event of threats to students and staff, said Cheryl May, commission chairman and director of the University of Arkansas’ Criminal Justice Institute.

“It has become apparent that a rapid armed response, from within the school building, saves lives,” said Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder, chairman of the law enforcement subcommittee. “The faster a school shooter is engaged by armed responders, the sooner the situation is halted.”

May noted that several commission members were initially hesitant about arming school employees because of the potential for confusion in an active shooter situation. But Clarksville School District Superintendent David Hopkins said his district uses and benefits from the system.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has vocally opposed arming Arkansas school employees in previous commission meetings. The organization’s members declined to immediately comment to the newspaper Monday on the commission’s votes.

The commission is expected to issue a final report in November.