An Arkansas state board voted on Wednesday to allow 13 school districts to keep their licenses to arm teachers, administrators and staff members in schools, foregoing an opinion from the State Attorney General who said the licensing law they are using as a legal premise was intended for private businesses.
The Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies initially voted in August to revoke two districts' licenses--the Clarksville and Lake Hamilton school districts--determining earlier that month that school districts are not private businesses and that school employees cannot act as private security officers. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, issued a legal opinion early August that the law was intended for private security companies. He wrote that it does not apply to school districts because they are legally enforced subsets of the state and cannot be considered private businesses.
But after a later motion on Wednesday, the state board voted 3-2 and cleared the way for the schools to keep their security licenses for two more years. The two-year period would be considered a test trial for the State Legislature to observe how effective the programs would be by utilizing their own staff members as security guards. Arkansas State law prohibits guns on campus, but exempts licensed security guards.
Participants in Clarksville School District, which drew national attention for its plan to train 22 teachers and staff members to act as armed security guards, were granted a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a handgun and holster in the case "a bad guy with a gun" showed up on campus. The 22 staff members, including a janitor, principals and teachers, also had to undergo a 53-hour training program using pellet guns.
Arkansas State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson (nephew of Asa Hutchinson, who pushed the National Rifle Association's School Shield Task Force proposal to allow guns in schools) took part in "active shooter" simulation at a school. Hutchinson accidentally shot a police officer portraying a teacher. The officer was not harmed by Hutchinson's rubber bullet-loaded pistol.
According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "the experience gave Hutchinson some pause, but he still supports giving schools the authority to decide how best to secure their campuses."
Hutchinson later told the New York Daily News, "The tough part is when law enforcement does arrives, it's hard to distinguish between the good guys with guns and the bad guys with guns. There were shots in the hallway, there's a man shooting into the classroom, and I shot that person."
While the panel reviewed the 13 districts that had been issued licenses, Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins pleaded with the panel to allow his school to keep the licenses. Hopkins argued that it was less expensive than hiring private security guards or police officers and that the district had already spent $70,000 for training the 22 staffers.
“Our whole point and goal here was to provide meaningful security for our kids, but do it in an economical way,” Hopkins said.
Nancy Anderson, the superintendent of the Cutter-Morning Star School District that is allowed to keep its licenses for the next two years, said the district does not have the funds to contract a private security agency. Anderson argued that her and staff would like to protect their students better in the case of a threat.
"I'd rather have something other than a stapler to throw at somebody with a gun."