In a press conference to talk about an initial report released by the Arkansas School Safety Commission, Hutchinson said schools must be at the forefront of counseling for students.
“Act 190 (by the state Legislature) mandated direct counseling,” he said. “It requires 90 percent direct counseling for students.”
Hutchinson also stressed the importance of school resource officers (SROs) to keep schools safe.
“We’ve increased the number of SROs from 311 in 2018 to 460 in 2022,” he said.
The Jonesboro City Council on Tuesday was scheduled to approve one new SRO each for Jonesboro and Nettleton school districts.
Hutchinson said SROs receive more comprehensive training on behavioral health issues now.
The governor said he’ll ask the Legislature to appropriate $50 million for school safety next week during its special session over the budget surplus. Arkansas ended the fiscal year with a $1.6 billion surplus.
Hutchinson said the commission outlined recommendations:
Expand youth mental health training for all staff who interact with students.
Establish a behavioral health assessment team.
Increase audit drills by the safety coordinator at each school district.
Every district should have an armed presence at each campus.
All doors and exits must remain locked.
Hutchinson said in order for doors and exits to remain locked there will need to be a change in current laws by the Legislature due to fire codes.
As far as an armed presence, the governor said school personnel are allowed to be armed inside of a school as long as they undergo special training. Arming of any school employee is voluntary, not mandatory, Hutchinson said.
In Jonesboro, police have been holding active shooting training sessions with its officers at various schools in the city.
On Tuesday, Brookland police, in conjunction with Jonesboro police, Arkansas Game and Fish law enforcement and other public safety agencies, held an active shooter drill at the high school.
Active shooter training is one of the recommendations made by the School Safety Commission.
Dr. Cheryl May, director of Arkansas’ Criminal Justice Institute, also spoke at Tuesday’s news conference. She said the commission made “tremendous progress” while coming up with safety guidelines.
During its hearings the commission heard from three Arkansas high school students. Webb Storer of Jonesboro High School spoke with the commission on July 19.
Hutchinson said parents need to step up to help with school safety.
“Parents play a critical role in how to enhance safety,” he said.
The initial report cited the school shootings that have occurred in Arkansas:
“Since 1997, we have lost 6 students and one teacher and 13 students, teachers or staff have been wounded. In addition to Stamps High School (1997; 2 wounded) and Westside Consolidated Middle School near Jonesboro (5 fatalities and 10 wounded), three other school shootings have occurred, all since the Commission completed its work in November of 2018.
“On April 1, 2019, a 14-year-old eighth-grade student at Prescott High School shot and injured a 14-year-old fellow eighth-grader. On April 24, 2019, a 14-year-old student at Concord High School shot himself and ended his own life in a restroom adjacent to the school cafeteria. On March 1, 2021, a 15-year-old student, in a premeditated attack, shot and killed a fellow 15-year-old classmate at Watson Chapel Junior High School.”
The School Safety Commission was established by Hutchinson in 2018 in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.