DYS director to new role

Betty Guhman, director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Youth Services, announced she would leave her position to advocate at the legislature on behalf of juvenile justice reforms supported by Governor Hutchinson. Michael Crump, director of the DHS Office of Compliance and Integrity, will serve as interim director while the department mounts a national search for her replacement. Guhman, a long associate of Hutchinson, took on the DYS role in 2016. It’s been a tumultuous time for the division. It unexpectedly was forced to take over seven of the state’s eight youth lockups after a political stalemate blocked a private vendor’s contract to operate them. DYS hadn’t operated the facilities in more than two decades and, as the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network has documented, at least two of the facilities in Dermott were in deplorable condition for much of 2017. In November, Hutchinson promised a number of reforms, including the closure of facilities in Dermott and Colt (St. Francis County) and that new money would be allocated to community-based treatment.


The Quapaw get nod from Jefferson County leaders

As expected, Pine Bluff and Jefferson County officials have picked the Quapaw Tribe’s Downstream Development Authority as the county’s casino operator. The Quapaw Tribe has been working with Pine Bluff officials for five years to gain approval of its bid. The state Racing Commission still has to make the official award of the casino license, but it seems unlikely that another applicant will emerge. Issue 4, the constitutional amendment passed by voters in November, requires that applicants have local support and casino experience. Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Jefferson County Judge Booker Clemons said in letters to the commission that they would exclusively support Downstream as the county’s casino operator.


Student newspaper story stifled

In late October, the Har-Ber High School Herald published a months-long investigation into the transfer of five varsity players from Har-Ber to Springdale High School, its archrival within the Springdale School District, during the 2017 school year. The district swiftly responded by requesting that the stories be immediately taken down from the paper’s website, then initially refused to authorize republishing them, Buzzfeed News first reported. District Superintendent Jim Rollins said that the stories could not be published because they were “intentionally negative, demeaning, derogatory, hurtful and potentially harmful to the students addressed in those articles” and “extremely divisive and disruptive to the Springdale School District’s educational community.”


Har-Ber High School’s own administration followed up by shutting down publication of the Herald until the district could “establish protocols for how these student publications will be published in the future,” including halting the publication of the new edition that was scheduled for later that week. In a memo to Karla Sprague, the teacher who advises the newspaper, Har-Ber Principal Paul Griep wrote, “Until these protocols are finalized, it is my expectation and the expectation of the district, that no student publications will be printed, posted online, or distributed until they are reviewed by building/district administration.” Failure to follow that directive, he wrote, would lead to disciplinary action and potentially termination.

Late on Dec. 4, however, the Springdale School District said the articles would be allowed to be republished. “After continued consideration of the legal landscape, the Springdale School District has concluded that the Har-Ber Herald articles may be reposted,” Communications Director Rick Schaeffer wrote. “This matter is complex, challenging and has merited thorough review. The social and emotional well-being of all students has been and continues to be a priority of the district.”

State law offers protections for student publications, mandating that school policies must “recognize that students may exercise their right of expression.” Griep had argued in his reprimand letter that suppressing the Herald stories did not violate the law