Arkansas Panel Says Schools Can Arm Staff For Two More Years

Sep 11, 2013

The Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies meet Wednesday.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR

School districts that had been allowed to use teachers and staff as armed guards are getting a two year reprieve.

Wednesday a state board reversed itself and said it will not immediately revoke permits so that it will give lawmakers a chance to change state laws.

The Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies heard concerns from the Attorney General’s office as well as school administrators.

Last month the board suspended the licenses of districts that had been allowed to use a law to arm teachers and staff. But Assistant Attorney General Ka Tina Hodge told the board that was not how the law was intended.

“I think everyone in this room would agree that school safety and the safety of students is paramount. But that is not the issue that this board is called to decide," Hodge said. 

"What the board has to decide is, as a matter of law, whether or not a public school district can license or register employees under the statutes that govern private businesses.”

But Lake Hamilton Superintendent Steve Anderson argued that arming trained staff members has been a cost effective way to be ready if a shooter came on campus.

“Our children are our greatest resource in this state and they deserve to be protected. Not only our children, but our teachers, our staff, our visitors. Right now we have a mechanism in place that has worked and worked under your guidelines for 20 years without any problem.”

After about two hours of discussion involving the Lake Hamilton and Clarksville licenses, the board took a vote, initially ruling against the districts.

“Very disappointed with it," said Lake Hamilton Attorney Scott Hickam during a recess immediately afterward.

"It’s a difficult job for the board and it’s a pretty convoluted mess legally, if not to some extent factually and I’ve appreciated the difficulty they’ve had.”

But then the board considered the case of a third district, Cutter Morning Star Public Schools in Hot Springs.

A board member who had recused himself from the earlier vote supported allowing it keep its license, which started a lengthy discussion about whether it would be fair to let it arm staffers but not others.

Eventually the decision was made to let the 13 districts statewide who currently have licenses keep them for two more years, until the matter of arming school personnel can be taken up by the Arkansas Legislature.

That brought a totally different response from attorney Hickam.

“I’ve been practicing law 35 years. I get to where I say I’m never surprised, but yeah, I’ve never seen anything like this quite frankly and I’m just glad the way it worked out.”

The superintendent of the Cutter Morning Star district, Nancy Anderson, said they’re financially strapped and don’t have the money to pay for private security.

“I’m just very excited with the decisions today. It’s all about the safety of the kids. That’s all it is.”

At a legislative hearing two weeks ago, lawmakers said they’ll consider making changes to state law, either during next year’s fiscal session or the 2015 regular session.