Arkansas Schools Train Teachers, Staff To Be Armed Guards

Monday, November 4th 2013, 11:27 pm
By: Craig Day

Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced several bills that would enable teachers or school staff to be armed, as long as they have background checks, ongoing mental health evaluations and firearms training. But the legislation hasn't gone anywhere.

In neighboring Arkansas, some teachers and school staff at several schools are packing heat. We talked to school leaders there to find out why they think it keeps students safer.

At Arkansas Christian Academy, just outside Little Rock, 242 students are in Pre-K through 9th grade. No teachers carry guns, but Pastor Perry Black said someone is armed on each part of the school property.

"Yeah, sometimes the solution to guns is a gun. It's sad, but it's reality," Black said.

Pastor Black says they pray for the best, but plan for the worst. The frequency of school shootings like Sandy Hook prompted the decision to arm some school staff members, as a way to slow down a gunman until law enforcement arrives.

"We are willing to do what is necessary to slow them down, talk them down, or if we have to, we'll lay them down," Black said.

The school took down "Gun-free Zone" signs, which Black said openly declare schools as soft targets, where a gunman could do the most damage with the least resistance. They put up a sign that says, "Any attempt to harm children will be met with deadly force."

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"I am absolutely positive, and I told the legislature, a dead child cannot learn anything," Black said.

Since Arkansas Christian Academy is a private school, on private church-owned property, measures preventing guns on campus don't apply, and are set by church leadership.

But even other public schools in Arkansas are moving forward with their own plans to arm teachers or staff members. One such school is Clarksville Schools, an hour east of Fort Smith.

"That window of time between when they enter and start shooting your people, and when the police arrive--too much damage occurs," said Clarksville Schools Superintendent David Hopkins.

Last summer, the district spent $70,000 on firearms training for 22 teachers and other employees. They're now armed this school year.

"You've got classroom teachers, you've got school administrators, principals, assistant principals, computer techs, you've got some janitors, some school secretaries," Hopkins said.

Arkansas state law prohibits guns on campus, but there's an exception for licensed security guards. So, Clarksville and several other districts got the proper training for employees to become licensed guards.

Hopkins said he feels confident his district's volunteer and staff members can follow through with protecting kids.

"When their life and the lives of their kids are on the line, they'll do the right thing," Hopkins said.

While the primary goal of arming teachers or staff members in those school districts is safety and security, the cost of school resource officers is also a factor.

Hopkins said one school resource officer costs about $50,000 a year, so it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to have an officer in each district building. He said it's much less expensive to train staff already on campus working.

"You've got to figure out a way to get this good security in your building, but yet do it in a way that is fiscally responsible for the district, too," Hopkins said.

In Arkansas, the minimum training for armed security is 10 hours. Clarksville's employees completed a 53-hour program that included shooting range training, decision making and shoot/don't shoot scenarios.

Arkansas Christian Academy is very selective of its volunteer security team, and requires the team to get re-certified at a gun range every 90 days, participate in training every two to three weeks, and they're subject to mental evaluations.

"It's not just a bunch of redneck Arkansans, running around firing off weapons," Black said.

Instead, they're intended to be a line of defense, able to respond in seconds rather than the minutes it may take law enforcement to respond if a gunman does get on campus.