An Arkansas school district is considering its legal options – and a possible appeal to state lawmakers — after the state’s Democrat attorney general shot down its plan to arm 20 trained high school teachers to protect students in case of a campus attack.
David Hopkins, superintendent of the Clarksville School District, told the Little Rock-based KARK 4 in an interview that the district was confident the program was being handled correctly before Attorney General Dustin McDaniel made his announcement last week.
“We really felt we had everything in place. We were ready to roll this out. We felt good about what we’ve done. We worked very closely with our local police agencies,” Hopkins told the station.
The Clarksville district received permission from a state board that licenses private security agencies to treat its teachers as armed security guards, according to news reports. But McDaniel stated in a legal opinion that the board exceeded its authority when it gave that permission.
“Simply put, the code in my opinion does not authorize either licensing a school district as a guard company or classifying it as a private business authorized to employ its own teachers as armed guards,” McDaniel wrote.
McDaniel’s announcement was supported by the state teachers union, the Arkansas Education Association, which argures that police officers called to a campus might mistake teachers for criminals.
“When law officers come, who do they know are the gunmen? Because who do they know are the trained security guards you know in that session?” said Brenda Robinson, AEA president.
The Arkansas controversy is part of a national debate. During an interview last week on “NBC Today,” New Jersey American Federation of Teachers president Donna Chiera said the idea of armed teachers could frighten students.
“I would hate for students to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, if I answer the wrong question, is my teacher going to shoot me? If I make my teacher angry, is my teacher going to shoot me?'”
Hopkins acknowledged Clarksville’s decision might not suit everybody, but thought it was right for his district.
“We’re certainly not advocating that every school district do what we’re doing, but we wanted to put together a program that we felt protected our kids,” Hopkins said.
But for the moment, he said, he’s bound by McDaniel’s opinion.
However, McDaniel is leaving office this year because of term limits. Both Republicans running to succeed him said school districts have a duty to protect children and if the law doesn’t currently permit armed teachers, they will press the state’s general assembly to change that.
The Democrat candidate issued a statement to KARK indicating such protection is best left in the hands of law enforcement.
Hopkins, however, said his teachers are trained to protect kids, too.
“I’m comfortable with our school resource officers that we have at our schools,” he said. “And the fact is, the level of training that our (teachers) are receiving is the same training officers receive.”
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