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story.lead_photo.caption Bentonville School District administration building.

BENTONVILLE -- High school students will have to wear their identification badges and display them prominently at all times on school grounds under a new policy change proposed by School District administrators.

Tanya Sharp, executive director of student services, presented the policy change at Monday's School Board meeting as a way to enhance security at the high schools. The board will be asked to vote on the policy at its meeting next week.

School resource officers

The Bentonville School District is proposing to add a school resource officer at the junior high level starting this fall, which will provide one officer for each of the district’s three junior high schools. Currently the three schools share two officers. The added officer is expected to cost the district about $60,000 per year, according to Dena Ross, chief operating officer.

The district provides three other resource officers — as well as the equivalent of 3.75 full-time, unarmed security officers at the high school level — for the two high schools.

Source: Staff report

Bentonville High School and West High School students currently receive identification cards and are required to have them at school, but aren't required to wear them. Students may use the cards to check out library books and buy food at school. They also use the cards for photo identification purposes when entering a school testing center, Sharp said.

The proposed policy, which would take effect this fall, would have students wearing their badges on a breakaway lanyard, Sharp said.

The district will buy the identification cards and lanyards for all students at an estimated annual cost of $40,000. Students who lose their cards will be charged a replacement fee, likely to be about $5, Sharp said.

Rebecca Powers, a board member, enthusiastically endorsed the administration's proposal.

"I love it. I love it. I love it," she said.

Sharp's presentation followed a longer one by Steve Vera, the district's safety director, on what measures are being taken to keep all of the schools safe -- a topic of much national attention since the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.

One of the first things Vera did when he took his position in November was to make sure the district's emergency response plan was updated. The plan covers all emergency preparedness procedures, including things as simple as the continuity of school administration -- who's in charge of each building and who takes over if that person's not present, Vera said.

The plan also includes information on designated evacuation points and off-site "family reunification" centers, both with primary and secondary locations. It has emergency management locations where command posts would be located, Vera said.

"There are several procedures all the way from fights in the classroom to threats, missing students, hazardous materials and active shooter procedures," Vera said. "It lists all the crisis intervention team we have in that building."

Staff members are trained to be mentally prepared for a crisis situation and to use common sense when deciding whether to flee, lock down or engage with a person who is a threat, Vera said.

Practicing lockdown drills is very important, he said. Each school is required to do at least three lockdown drills per year, and most are doing one per month, he said.

Vera also spoke about the district's "See Something, Say Something" campaign, which launched last fall. It encourages students and others to contact authorities if they notice suspicious activity. He monitors the district's new confidential tip line at 479-367-8080.

Tip line use was slow in the beginning, but it has picked up in recent weeks, he said.

"I've had four in the last week that was information, valid information," Vera said. One tip was from a girl who was concerned that her friend seemed to be very depressed.

Referencing cooperation with area police departments, Vera said he could guarantee -- based on the training he knew from his days with the Bentonville Police Department -- that if a threat arises at a school, the first responding officer will not wait for backup to enter the school and confront that threat.

"They don't hesitate," he said. "He goes immediately into the building, goes to the threat and engages and terminates that threat."

NW News on 03/06/2018

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