Center seeks ways to ensure children's safety at school

Posted: October 19, 2017 at 3:23 a.m.

GREENBRIER -- Two state agencies have partnered to create the Arkansas Center for School Safety, a place that will help educators and law enforcement officers find ways to keep children safe at school.

The University of Arkansas System's Criminal Justice Institute and the Arkansas Department of Education announced the new center at Greenbrier High School on Wednesday, in the middle of national and Arkansas Safe Schools Week. The week is an annual observance to ensure that everyone works together to make all of the nation's schools safe internally and externally.

"Our vision at the Department of Education is to transform Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education," said Education Commissioner Johnny Key. "And we are very excited that this center is the next step in the evolution of that process."

Act 484 of 2013 -- the Safe Schools Initiative Act -- laid the groundwork for the center's creation, said Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, who sponsored the bill. At the time, the bill was in response to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.

A teacher and a friend had told Irvin that one of her fourth-graders asked if the class could practice hiding, the senator said Wednesday. After that and conversations with her own children, Irvin wanted Arkansas schools to be prepared, mandating in the law that school districts provide annual training for employees and students in how to respond to violence and natural disasters.

Irvin said she helped connect the Criminal Justice Institute with these efforts.

After nearly a year and a half in the works, the center has started thanks to a Community Oriented Policing Services grant and some $500,000 that Attorney General Leslie Rutledge provided a few years ago, said institute director Cheryl May.

The center will help expand courses, guidelines and tool kits that the institute can make available at no cost to educators and law enforcement alike, May said. The courses will include topics from active shooter situations to prevention of violence and crimes in schools, such as gang awareness or weapons on campus, May said.

The center's website -- www.arsafeschools.com -- also includes a comprehensive list of resources to help teachers and administrators carry out policies for their campuses.

On Wednesday, Irvin addressed the Greenbrier High students in the audience, urging them to be engaged. Students have the opportunity to keep one another safe, from something as simple as helping a smaller child cross the street to reaching out to a student who may be bullied, she said.

"There are some opportunities for you to be engaged, and I encourage you to do that," she said. "Step up and be leaders. Every single one of you have the ability to do that."

Key said parents know that their children will be safe from "those things that we hear about in other places" at Arkansas schools in part because officials have brought together partners to provide more resources to the schools, administrators, educators, school-resource officers and communities.

"You have a responsibility as students, and I speak to you ... as representatives around the state," he said. "Your responsibility is to take advantage of this space that you have. When these folks are doing their best everyday -- day in, day out -- to create that environment, it is your responsibility to take advantage of that, learn as much as you can, be prepared everyday to go in and learn so that at the end of your high school stage, you will be ready to move on to that next step -- whatever that next step may be."

Metro on 10/19/2017