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After 20 children and six teachers were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December, school officials across the country began to look at different ways to keep students safe.
All schools have emergency plans, some schools have armed security personnel, but David Hopkins, superintendent of Clarksville School District in Arkansas, wants his teachers armed.
After 53 hours of training, 22 volunteers in the district were certified as security guards.
The team was to be armed with small pistols, concealed under faculty and staffs’ clothing during the school day. But Clarksville’s program was suspended.
The county is one of 13 whose license allowing weapons to be carried on campus was revoked by the same state regulatory board that issued them.
The board reversed the decision at the recommendation of Arkansas’ Attorney General citing legal issues with the provision.
Superintendent Hopkins told Here & Now that arming teachers in his schools would create an “equal force” against an intruder.
“You have got to meet that person with the same sort of an armed resistance, to either disrupt what he is trying to do, or eliminate that threat all together,” Hopkins said.
Arkansas’ Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said that he is of a different opinion than Superintendent Hopkins.
“I’m just real concerned when we began to arm individuals in our public schools that are not constantly trained, have not been put in those situations in real life,” Kimbrell told Here & Now.
In 60 days, the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies will have individual revocation hearings for all those with commissions.
Until then, the schools will have to depend on resource officers and their previous emergency plans.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. How far should a school go to keep students safe? One district in Arkansas wants to arm some of its teachers. David Hopkins is the superintendent of the Clarksville District schools, and after the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Hopkins decided to provide concealed weapons to 22 of his teachers, secretaries and administrators to supplement the law enforcement resource officer in charge of school security.
They all received extensive training. The plan was to have four armed employees also act as private security guards in each of Clarksville's schools. That was the plan. However, following a recommendation by the Arkansas attorney general, a state regulatory board has decided to suspend such private security guard licenses for 13 Arkansas school districts, including Clarksville.
Superintendent David Hopkins joins us, and superintendent, take us back to the original thinking behind your plan to arm some of Clarksville's teachers.
DAVID HOPKINS: Well, obviously the tragedy at Sandy Hook is really what propelled this to the forefront. We asked ourselves that really difficult question, that if a person comes through your front door, and they're armed, and their intent is to kill as many people as they can in your school, what do you do at that point? And, you know, certainly call the police, but what do you do between the time that the police are on their way, and you've got that person in your building?
And it was at that revelation, so to speak, that we realized that you have got to have equal force. You have got to meet that person wish some sort of an armed resistance to either disrupt what he's trying to do or possibly eliminate that threat altogether.
CHAKRABARTI: Tell us a little bit more about the program. What kind of training did these folks go through?
HOPKINS: We found a company in northwest Arkansas that basically the people that work for that company, they are law enforcement trainers. And they worked with us to put together a plan to where our people received some of the best, if not better, training than what they would have received had they gone to the academy.
At the police academies, you get a 40-hour block of firearms training, and our people receive 53 hours of training.
CHAKRABARTI: What kind of weapon would they have carried if they had been allowed to?
HOPKINS: I believe it is a PPS model, which is a slim model, nine millimeter, single stack, and it's kind of a compromise because it handles less ammunition than a full-sized pistol, but yet it allows a person to comfortably conceal that firearm. And that's what we were wanting to do. We did not want this to be an overt operation. We did not want, you know, pistols hanging on the outside of our teachers. We just wanted people that were in place that could respond within seconds given one of those worst-case scenarios.
CHAKRABARTI: I hear your point about worst-case scenario and external threats to the school. But I think some people were concerned about the possibility of something happening internally. What if students, or a student inside the classroom, somehow got their hands on the gun that one of these 22 staff members were carrying, that there's a lot of safety issues within the classrooms themselves when you introduce a firearm.
HOPKINS: Well, currently you've got firearms that are introduced into classrooms all over the country via the resource officer. Our resource officer, in fact, teaches classes for us here. And, you know, that does not seem to cause an issue. And in fact our individuals, the firearm would not even be exposed, it would be concealed. So I think the chances of that are being blown way out of proportion and are very, very, very, very minimal.
CHAKRABARTI: Now, I've read that some parents have taken their children out of the Clarksville School District because they're just concerned about having armed staff of any kind.
HOPKINS: There certainly have been some that have expressed that, and I believe there have been some that have transferred because of that. But, you know, a few years ago we went through another program where we purchased computers, a netbook, and put it in the hands of every kid six through 12. And I actually had more people transfer out of the district because of that. They said that their kids learn better with books than with computers. And so we lost more kids over that than the issue with the guns.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, David Hopkins is the superintendent of the Clarksville School District in Arkansas. Superintendent Hopkins, thanks for speaking with us today.
HOPKINS: You're very welcome, thank you for having me.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, let's get another perspective. Tom Kimbrell is the education commissioner for the state of Arkansas. He's not a member of the regulatory board that made this licensing decision but he agrees that teachers should not be armed. Commissioner, welcome, and what is your primary concern?
TOM KIMBRELL: Well, I think what's driven the concern for us as an agency, me personally, and I think what has brought the national attention to this is that this is not new to schools. We have several schools, I believe 12 additional schools, that have commissioned their own security guards. But they don't arm those individuals.
In this case, you're talking about putting live ammunition and weapons on a person to be carried, you know, every day, all day long, whereas these districts that have commissioned these guards, only in one situation that I'm aware of, one individual enforcement who is the direct of safety, who is also an officer of the local police department, actually carries a weapon.
Another school district, the Lake Hamilton School District, actually has commissioned security guards that are administrators and others. They have weapons on the campus, but they're locked in rooms and in safes where if something does happen they have access, and only those individuals have access, but they're not actually carrying the weapon on them throughout the day, every day, and into other events.
CHAKRABARTI: As they would have been in Clarksville if their plan had been approved.
KIMBRELL: It's my understanding is Clarksville would have had these individuals carrying these loaded firearms every day, all day, at school and possibly even at other school events.
CHAKRABARTI: So we just heard Superintendent David Hopkins tell us that he did this because of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, and that he didn't want a worst-case scenario to happen in one of his schools in Clarksville. I mean, do you think he had the right idea, or do you disagree that concealed weapons are the way to provide that security?
KIMBRELL: I've heard the superintendent from Newtown speak on this matter, and she was just adamant that the reaction of arming individuals that are not trained law officers into schools was not the answer to this question of creating safety in our public schools. So Mr. Hopkins and I, we agree to disagree that we have a different perspective on this.
I'm just real concerned when we begin to arm individuals in our public schools that are not constantly trained, have not been put in those situations in real life.
CHAKRABARTI: We heard David Hopkins say that in that worst-case scenario, there's this critical period of time between when an assailant might enter a school and when law enforcement can get there. And, you know, according to him, he thinks that having armed teachers would be the best way to handle that critical period of time. I mean, what other forms of security might you be able to suggest could be alternatively used?
KIMBRELL: Well, I think there's a litany of things that can happen. I mean, we have schools in some of our communities that have metal detectors. I think there are things that are being done to construct areas in which people have to enter the buildings, everything else is locked up, you can't enter but from one access point. And there are issues of personnel, such as resource officers and how many resource officers your district is willing to invest in for the safety of your children.
So in Arkansas, schools are given local and state money to make decisions about how they allocate those funds to educate, transport and ensure the safety and well-being of the children.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Tom Kimbrell is the commissioner for education for the state of Arkansas. Mr. Kimbrell, thank you so much for joining us today.
KIMBRELL: Thank you, and I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of that discussion.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, in that worst-case scenario, the one we hope we never have to face, what do you think? How can schools best keep students safe in that critical period before law enforcement arrives? We'd love to know what you think. Let us know at hereandnow.org. News is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.