GF board reviews options for safety

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last Wednesday, many school districts are wondering what can be done to prevent active shooter situations on their own campuses.

The Green Forest School Board decided at its Monday meeting that doing something is better than waiting on legislative action.

The board agreed to have Superintendent Matt Summers research three options to bring back to the March school board meeting:

• Nonlethal weapons, such as pepper spray, tear gas or mace

• Additional school resource officers (SRO)

• A security force composed of staff members serving as registered commissioned security guards

Summers said school administrators met earlier in the day to review every safety procedure staff members are currently responsible for, such as locking doors and the check-in, check-out policy for students and visitors.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, he said they had the same conversation and ultimately decided to add a second SRO.

“After Florida, those conversations are happening all over our country again,” Summers said. “What’s the acceptable number of students we could lose to gun violence? Name me an acceptable number. There’s not one. Zero.”

He continued, “Name the number of staff members we could acceptably lose. Again, there is no number. That tells you our sense of urgency and our commitment to this. I know you have the same feelings. I just need your direction and guidance. What direction do you want me to go in?”

Summers first brought up the nonlethal weapon options, noting that district policy already allows employees to carry up to 150 cubic centimeters of mace, pepper spray or tear gas.

He mentioned a product, the Kimber Pepper Blaster II, that could be purchased for staff members to use in an active shooter situation.

“The price on that is $34.90 per blaster,” Summers said. “It’s basically a two-shot liquid-type gel. The maximum range is approximately 13 feet, and, at 13 feet, it’s a nine- to 11-inch pattern and it sticks.”

The blaster resembles a firearm, he said, and has sights to aim.

“If it doesn’t hit its target, does it have anything that comes out of it?” asked board president Bud Phillips.

“I don’t think so,” Summers said. “I think it’s got to hit center mass or be a head shot.”

Phillips said he is in support of staff members carrying containers of pepper spray, sharing his experiences using it as a police officer in Pine Bluff.

“With three little blasts out of a container of pepper spray, I could clear out a room [the size of the high school library],” he said. “The only thing with [the blaster] is if you miss, then it’s not effective.”

Phillips said he would also like to see designated people in the Green Forest School District carrying guns.

“I know it might not be popular in a lot of areas,” he said. “I would like to see us come up with something like the Clarksville model.”

Summers said the Clarksville School District currently has 22 staff members, including teachers and administrators, serving as security guards in their buildings. The district had to be awarded a license through the Arkansas State Police’s private investigator and security division, he said, and staff members did 53 hours of training on site in the school area.

If the district pursues a security force of armed staff members, Phillips said volunteers would need to be scrutinized because it is a huge responsibility.

“When you are given a gun and are being asked to make a life-or-death decision that quick, it comes with a large responsibility,” he said, “especially when you have a building full of kids.”

Phillips continued, “With volunteers, I feel like they would need to be scrutinized. Not every volunteer would be granted a license. It would have to be a selective deal.”

Board member John Bailey, who is also the chief of the Green Forest Police Department, recommended that volunteers for the security force take the same psychological screening as police officers do.

“In my research and in talking to John, I think the security guard thing might work,” Summers said. “I want to visit with the Clarksville superintendent and call the state police.”

He said he had polled district administrators, and all of them would be willing to volunteer for the security force.

“It’s a polarizing issue,” Summers said. “Everyone is on one side or the other, but, at the end of the day, you are asking us for the safety and security of our community’s greatest assets, which is our kids and grandkids.”

Phillips said he would like Summers to follow up on the security force idea.

“I would like to see us go down this road,” he said. “The government is not going to protect our kids here. They’re going to talk about it and end up doing nothing. It’s just not going to happen. If we don’t protect our kids and our staff, no one will.”

“In my opinion, I don’t see anything legislative happening,” Summers said. “At Sandy Hook, we had first-graders die, and no legislation came about from that. I don’t see it happening from a Florida high school. I hate to be pessimistic, but I don’t see it.”

He said it would take a policy change and a lot more research if the district goes down that route.

Board member Jerry King asked Summers if he would feel comfortable carrying a gun.

“Absolutely,” Summers said. “Here’s the question I and staff members have to ask, though. Could I shoot a kid?”

The training for staff members would need to be more thorough than the training required for a concealed carry license, he said.

Summers mentioned that the board had also considered having an SRO at each building after the Sandy Hook shooting. Board member Diana Raye Sturtz suggested they look into that option again.

“Can schools actually allow volunteers who are retired military and police to come in?” she asked.

Phillips said it would need to be trained staff members or officers because the district would need documentation.

“We would need to have training records and all of that ready to go in the event of a lawsuit,” he said. “We’ve got to consider that.”

Summers told the board he would research the nonlethal weapons, the possibility of having four SROs and the security force before the March board meeting.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, March 19, in the high school library.

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