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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The fight over private security guards in public schools has its first battlefield: rural Arkansas.

Clarksville school district is the center of the school safety debate, where, on September 11, the Arkansas state board of education will decide if they wish to revoke a license that allows staff to act as private security guards. Clarksville superintendent David Hopkins says he plans to appeal any decision that strikes down the license. Hopkins has the backing of state senator Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Benton), who wants to explore whether or not state law relegates school safety to individual districts. Hutchinson supports amending state law if school safety issues do not rest with school districts.

Hutchinson became a supporter of armed guards in schools after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Ironically, at an “active shooter” training program, Hutchinson accidentally shot a teacher with a rubber bullet.

The legal debate began when the Clarksville school district introduced a plan in July to arm 200 school guards. To implement the plan, the district applied for a license from the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies to act as a private company in order to hire private guards. In response, Democratic attorney general Dustin McDaniel filed an opinion on August 1, which argued that Clarksville school district is a government subdivision, not a private business, and could therefore not have the license. Following McDaniel’s opinion, the school board responded with a decision to suspend requests for private guards by school districts.

The September decision will decide whether this suspension will be the precedent for school safety in Arkansas, or private guards will be welcomed to public schools.

The suspension of practice may be the minority opinion in Arkansas: Armed private guards are popular among superintendents in school districts throughout throughout the state. In the Nettleton School District in Craighead County, for example, Superintendent James Dunivan told Arkansas Online that his security team includes armed police officers. For Dunivan, however, that’s not enough; He supports armed private security guards.

“I’m hoping some latitude will be granted after the hearing Sept. 11,” Dunivan told Arkansas Online. “To have a security guard without being able to carry a weapon is like having a watchdog without teeth.”

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

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  • TZToronto

    If school security guards are allowed to have guns, I think we can expect that more students and teachers than armed intruders will be wounded or killed.

    • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

      The issue here is not the use of private security guards. They have been around a lot longer than most people realize. The issue is can they use School Staff (which can technically mean anybody who works for the School District, including the “Lunch Ladies” in the cafeteria) as Security Guards. The State AG interprets the law to say no. However, if Clarksville hired a private company there would not be a problem.