Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ visit to Arkansas was carefully controlled as we’d promised — no press questions were allowed (a requirement Arkansas media didn’t challenge); the general public wasn’t allowed to attend his events, and, according to the Democrat-Gazette, demonstrators at the Lake Hamilton school district were ordered off a public sidewalk and confined to an area where Sessions wouldn’t have to see them. People who spoke at school were predominantly pre-cleared supporters of more guns in the hands of adults on campuses. Happily, some contrary views emerged.
Evie Blad, a former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter now working for Education Week, quoted Jay Barth, chairman of the state Board of Education and a Times columnist, as part of her article on the event and guns in school. (Correction: He was one ringer on the panels assembled for Sessions’ visit by virtue of his position as chair of the board. He’s the final progressive holdout on the Board from the Beebe era.)
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said teachers should not be required to carry guns, but stopped short of saying they should not be armed.
Jay Barth, the chair of the state’s board of education, took that a step further, telling the commission that armed school staff should never include teachers.
“To be an effective classroom teacher, it requires 100 percent of one’s attention,” Barth said. “I think that to alter one’s mindset in a way that is problematic.”
Barth also challenged the panel to take a broader view of school safety, considering issues like bullying and school climate in addition to rare worst-case scenarios like shootings.
He noted that several schools around the country have had mass shootings, despite the presence of armed security and law enforcement on campus.
“It is not a panacea,” Barth said of arming staff.
Absent from the meeting were representatives of groups that have opposed arming educators. Some of those groups have shared their thoughts at the commission’s previous public hearings. Among their concerns:
The presence of firearms may make students feel scared or anxious;
The presence of firearms could create security risks and increase liability for schools;
Firearms training for educators may be insufficient for complicated active-shooter situations; and
Arming educators may shift valuable resources away from necessary school programs, like those used to support students.