301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org
Cheryl May, chair of the Arkansas School Safety Commission

9.28.22 – Arkansas Times

School safety commission holds final meeting before sending report to governor.

Schools’ external windows and doors would be numbered to help authorities when responding to emergencies such as active shootings, under a recommendation the Arkansas School Safety Commission adopted Tuesday.

The commission also approved recommendations aimed at cybersecurity, student intervention and public awareness as it held its final meeting before submitting its report to Governor Hutchinson. The Republican governor reactivated the panel, first created in 2018, after the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead. The report is due Saturday.

Commission member Tim Cain, director of the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation in the state Education Department, said school districts should have the numbers on external doors and windows and have records of what numbers correspond with each site so that emergency responders know where to go once they arrive on campus. A shooter might, for example, be holding people hostage in a room, and this system would help more quickly identify the location.

Commissioner Lori Poston, vice president of clinical services for northeast region of Arisa Health, made the motion for a recommendation that school districts have a dashboard or computerized information system that would gather relevant student data that in turn might help school officials identify at-risk students with problems such as failing grades, loss of class credit, poor attendance or behavioral issues. By recognizing such signs early, school personnel could intervene and see that these students got the emotional and social support they need before a problem escalates, Poston said.

Like all other recommendations discussed Tuesday, the measure passed unanimously.

The commission approved three cybersecurity measures. One urges school districts to have offsite data backups. Another urges “best practices” to reduce cyberthreats when working with a third party such as a business that must do work in a school district. The third encourages schools to ensure that their information technology staff follow the best “current and updated” practices.

The panel also recommended initiating school safety awards for some school districts but taking care to avoid publicly identifying those districts that have not implemented panel recommendations and thereby making them potential targets.

Commissioner and Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said it has been “a source of frustration” that some of the commission’s past recommendations haven’t been implemented in some school districts. Sometimes the reasons are lack of funding or other matters. But sometimes, it’s “complacency,’ he said.

Helder suggested that school boards’ annual reports to the public should start including an update on the progress their districts are making on the safety recommendations. Helder said he wasn’t necessarily “shaming” anyone but trying to ensure that “our schools … get on board.”

He and another commissioner agreed they didn’t want to reveal any weak spots a school district might have publicly lest a person with ill intent seize on that weakness and harm the school. Ultimately, the commission decided to turn this matter over to another committee that is also looking at school safety.