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Genoa schools may deputize staff

Genoa schools may deputize staff

District officials exploring various safety options

March 9th, 2018 by Lori Dunn and Jennifer Middleton in Texarkana News

Area school districts are re-evaluating safety plans following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting and one is considering taking armed steps to increase staff and student safety.

Angela Bryant, the superintendent at Genoa Central School District, is planning to meet with the Miller County Sheriff's Office on what procedures are required to deputize some of her staff members.

"We have some parents that are concerned about school safety," she said. "They have seen the idea and have brought me some things other schools in the state of Arkansas are doing."

One of those schools is Clarksville School District, where teachers and staff have been armed since 2013. Their superintendent, Dr. David Hopkins, is on the Arkansas School Safety Commission, created last week by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Hopkins, along with other educators and law enforcement officials, will evaluate and recommend school security policies and campus designs. The commission's first report is due July 1.

Bryant said one thing she plans to address is employees' ability to keep a gun locked in their car. She said Arkansas law allows it, but the district does not currently have a concealed carry policy.

"We will abide by state law," she said. "The personnel policy committee is proposing a policy about concealed carry to the board. If they approve it, it would take effect July 1. It means it would be locked up in a vehicle and not conceal carried in the hallways."

In looking at the available options on how to implement greater school safety, she said if teachers were armed, she would make sure they had undergone proper training.

"I would not want the liability unless those people were somehow deputized and I know they have been properly trained," she said. "I want my teachers focusing on instruction. I am definitely not against it as long as it done correctly, but I don't want everybody toting a gun. It would 100 percent be a deterrent if others are aware you may have some but they don't know who."

Both Genoa and Fouke currently have school resource officers who are certified law enforcement officers.

Miller County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mark Lewis said he has not seen an agenda for the meeting but that officers plan to participate and listen to any issues that school officials or parents have about security.

However, he said officers already have a good working relationship with the school districts in Miller County.

"The school resource officers have worked out really well so far. We have one officer at each campus and have an outstanding relationship with both districts," Lewis said.

In Arkansas, a school resource officer assists with school security, safety, emergency preparedness, emergency response, or any other responsibility assigned by the school or law enforcement agency.

Bryant said they are implementing other safety measures, including requiring all employees to have badges.

"I'm looking at next year possibly requiring students to have them," she said. "Anything that could increase that safety."

She added that proposed policy changes regarding the deputizing or concealed carry would not be on the March 12 school board agenda and that parents will be on that meeting's agenda to voice their concerns.

"At the point of that, the board will have some things to think about," she said. "It would probably be a future meeting. Right now, I am reading everything I can. The governor is doing the investigative study and I'm staying on top of that. It is a slow process and money is also an issue. I'm looking for any way we can feasibly do."

Bryant said they are also looking at building designs and whether they need to add on or change them to increase security.

"The number one goal is to keep students and staff safe," she said.

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