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According to the School Safety Commission’s preliminary report, better access to mental-health counseling for students must be a priority as Arkansas leaders look for ways to tighten security at public schools.

Governor Asa Hutchinson created the Commission by executive order on March 1st, following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The commissioners evaluated safety and security policies, emergency plans and policies, and the design of schools, including concepts such as single-point entry and electronic-access badges. The Commission also focused on the mental-health aspect and surveyed the availability of school counseling for students.

“It is crucial that we have mental-health counselors easily available to students,” Governor Hutchinson said during last week’s press conference. “It is crucial that we have threat-assessment teams at schools that coordinate with counselors when a student’s behavior suggests the potential of violence.”

The Public School Student Services Act of 1991, requires school counselors to spend at least 75 percent of their time in direct counseling and no more than 25 percent of their time on administrative duties. However, Governor Hutchinson said counselors have to spend too much time on paper work and are not able to spend enough time on the needs of students.

Hutchinson said, “based on the recommendations of the School Safety Commission, I’m directing Commissioner Johnny Key and the Department of Education to review that law and to work with the General Assembly to amend the law to improve the availability of school counselors to provide direct counseling for students.” He said, “We must improve and increase the coordination between schools and state agencies that provide mental-health services and resources for specific students needs.”

In its preliminary report, the commission also recommended that every school have at least one-armed officer on campus. Governor Hutchinson stressed that no teacher will be required to carry a weapon.

The commissioners also recommended specialized training for school resource officers; increased visibility of police officers on campuses; threat-assessment teams that will monitor situations with potential for violence; and regular assessment of school safety plans and policies.

The Commission will deliver its final report to the Governor on November 30, 2018.

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