AG's Opinion: Arkansas Schools Can't Arm Staff

Thursday, 01 Aug 2013 08:06 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Arkansas' public schools cannot employ teachers and staff as armed security guards, the state's attorney general said Thursday in an opinion that likely ends one district's program to arm nearly two dozen employees with 9mm handguns.

The opinion from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel stated the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies isn't authorized to license school districts to provide armed security.

Twelve school districts have already gotten licenses from the board to let them train, license, and arm teachers and staff, reported.

One of them, in Clarksville, is in the midst of a $50,000 training program for teachers and staff.

Superintendent, David Hopkins, told Arkansas News Bureau in July the program was a response to the Newtown, Conn., murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, when 20 children and six staff members were slain by shooter Adam Lanza.

"Simply put, the code in my opinion does not authorize either licensing a school district as a guard company or classifying it as a private business authorized to employ its own teachers as armed guards," McDaniel said in the opinion requested by state Democratic Rep. Hank Wilkins.

Hopkins told The Associated Press he'd spoken with McDaniel earlier Thursday, but "it sounds like he's saying that we can't do the program." He said he was still reviewing the opinion.

"Obviously we're going to comply with the law. We're not going to break the law," said Hopkins, who went on NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning to tout the program. "We wanted to provide the training and give the sense of a secure place for our parents and students. I tell you, this has really thrown a monkey wrench into it."

The Lake Hamilton School District has been using the same law for years to train a handful of administrators as security guards, but the guns are locked away and not carried by the administrators during the school day, the AP reported.

Lake Hamilton Superintendent Steve Anderson said he was talking with local prosecutors, school attorneys and other officials about how to proceed. Anderson said the district has had its license for 25 years.

"We'll take appropriate measures and I imagine this is something that will eventually be settled in a court of law or the Legislature," Anderson said.

Bill Sadler, a spokesman for Arkansas State Police said pending applications by two or three districts for similar licenses, as well as pending applications from other entities or businesses that aren't security companies, have been put on hold because of McDaniel's opinion.

He said it will be up to the licensing board on what to do with the 13 existing licenses.
"We've got to hear from the board what they want us to do with the existing licenses that are out there," Sadler said. "Until we hear that and get some clear guidance from the board, we're in a holding pattern."

A House panel in February rejected a bill that would have allowed some school employees to carry concealed handguns on campus after completing a 40-hour course at a state law enforcement training academy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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