Lots of acronyms, little action at Arkansas School Safety Commission meeting, IMHO
The Arkansas School Safety Commission gathered again today and talked plenty of jargon, but true to form took no significant action.
And once again all 24 members — only one of whom is a current teacher — quietly avoided the topic of guns. There was no ban on acronyms, though. Those included:
- SMEs, short for subject matter experts, as in those who give speeches and help the committee and subcommittee members pass the time.
- SROs, also known as school resource officers, as in local or school police officers who work on campus.
- CROs, or civilian resource officers, aka sometimes teachers armed with guns and bullets as in the Clarksville School District among others. “The model program,” one committee member boasted of the Clarksville district, whose superintendent David Hopkins is, of course, on the commission.
- MOUs, short for memorandums of understanding. Call them unofficial contracts in layman’s language.
The commission opened the meeting with streamed comments by Cindy Marble, a former Secret Service agent who now works at a company that provides security assessments and training. Marble addressed the need for “behavioral threat assessment.” Let’s call it BTA for short.
“It’s about intervention” and helping people before they become violent, Marble said. She stressed the need to intervene before a threat has been made — to reach out to the bullied student as well as the bully.
She mentioned that she had often intervened by taking people some might have considered threats to a hospital for help or gotten them back to their homes. Handled properly, such assessments often don’t end with having to involve law enforcement, she said.
If people “think it’s an adversarial process, they’re less likely to bring information” to the authorities, she said.
Situations that can merit intervention include students whose grades begin dropping, who exhibit major behavioral changes or changes in dress and class attendance, Marble said. All of these raise the question of what led to the changes. Perhaps the student needs help. Don’t wait for a threat, Marble stressed. Rather, she said, find out why the changes are taking place before there’s a bigger problem.
Even so, Marble said, “We can’t control everything.” By the time an active shooting in a school takes place, “They are at a point of desperation.” Some of the assailants, she said, amount to “suicides with collateral damage.”
That, she said, points to the need to improve physical security measures in schools.
Commission Chair Cheryl May, director of the University of Arkansas System’s Criminal Justice Institute, noted later that funding for physical improvements to school buildings can be a problem in some Arkansas schools.
“There are school districts that are very poor and don’t have the same” financial resources as others in Arkansas, May said. So, districts may vary on what they can prioritize when it comes to upgrading school buildings to make them more secure.
The commission also addressed the matter of “standardized language” when discussing school safety. That way, “when we’re talking about something, we’re talking about” the same thing, said A.J. Gary, director of the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management.
I’ve never served on a commission. But I am a former school teacher in northeast Arkansas where I was threatened by a student who ended up in jail.
So, if I may suggest two things. First, speak in full words, not alphabet soup no one outside the commission will follow. Second, invite more classroom teachers to the table and let them have a vote. Those are the SMEs on English, science, history and math, the subjects they were hired to teach, rather than the CROs, MOUs and BTAs the commission wants already underpaid teachers to take on for free.
Also, what about the GUNs? Are we going to address the access to guns that’s the only surefire component of every single school shooting ever?
You can look forward to more acronyms and jargon when the commission meets again at 1 p.m. next Tuesday.
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