It would take a while for law enforcement personnel to reach the rural Lake Hamilton School District, which is why the superintendent, Steve Anderson, is one of several staff members legally able to carry a gun on campus.
While the guns are normally locked up, Anderson has holstered a sidearm five times in the 12 years he has had a commissioned security officer license. Two of those occurred after the Sandy Hook shootings last year in order to calm what he called a nervous staff. He and the armed response team also have access to body armor and radios.
“It’s a very sensitive and controversial situation,” he said. “It may not be right for everybody and for every school district. In our particular school district, not only do the patrons approve (of) it, they expect it.”
Anderson was one of four superintendents attending a press conference in Little Rock Wednesday by Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas gubernatorial candidate and national director of the National Rifle Association’s National School Shield Task Force.
Hutchinson’s task force is recommending that selected staff members be trained in districts that can’t hire sufficient armed school resource officers. The training would involve 40-60-hour courses funded publicly and privately, including by the federal government. Hutchinson estimated that the cost would be $3,000 for each person undergoing the training.
The initiative would provide a model training program. He emphasized that staff members, not teachers, should fulfill that role.
Hutchinson acknowledged that giving school personnel access to firearms could open districts up to liability concerns. He said he hoped that the National School Shield Initiative could be an ongoing concern capable of providing liability insurance to participating districts.
Hutchinson said that while decisions should be made locally, the state should require every school to do a safety and security assessment. “We need to have school safety as a part of our adequacy requirements for an adequate education in Arkansas,” he said.
The initiative has created a web-based self-assessment tool where school administrators would answer questions about their schools’ security environment. The National School Shield website has a list of best security practices.
Hutchinson met with about 15 school superintendents, including Anderson, about two months ago as the task force was creating its plan. Meetings like that led to changes in the approach. For example, superintendents told Hutchinson they opposed an idea to rely on volunteers to protect the schools.
Anderson said he undergoes eight hours of training every two years but would like to see a more uniform training plan nationwide.
“I’m not a Rambo. I’m not a John Wayne-type. I’m a schoolteacher,” he said. “I’m not a law enforcement officer. I’m not a Navy SEAL. But I’m going to take care of my kids.”