FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — It’s an exciting time for those at Fayetteville Public Schools as the district will be welcoming students back to the classroom on Monday. Safety is also at the top of mind for the district.
“Safety is our number one priority,” said Dr. Megan Duncan, Deputy Superintendent at FPS. “We’re ready for students to return, ready for parents to bring their students back and teachers are excited. They are in professional development this week.
Schools across the nation ended last school year on a somber note after the Uvalde tragedy, when a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
“We don’t wait for an opportunity to have that interaction,” she said. “We plan and prepare for safety interactions every day because we don’t know who is coming and who has what type of intent.”
She said they have to walk a fine line between being transparent with parents about how they are keeping kids safe, while also not giving important information to anyone wants to do harm to the school.
“On one hand you want to shout at the rooftops everything that you’re doing and the amount of time, effort, training and money you’re investing to ensure that students and staff are protected,” she said. “It can also fall unfortunately into the wrong hands and be used against a school district or against a particular building.”
One of the preparations they are able to share is the start of a brand new position: District Safety Coordinator.
“This is where I’m raising my children, so this is of extreme importance to me,” said Tim Miller at July’s FPS School Board Meeting. He is taking on this new role this year.
Dr. Duncan said Miller’s job is to build the gap between safety and learning in every FPS building.
“Every building is different,” she explained. “It has its own fingerprint. It has its own process, it’s own culture, it’s own way it operates.”
Help is coming from the state for school districts across the natural state. During the August special session, the state legislature passed a bill allowing $50 million from the General Revenue Allotment Reserve Fund to be used for grants for school safety upgrades. Governor Asa Hutchinson signed that bill into law Thursday afternoon.
“When parents drop their children off at school, they want to have confidence that their children are going to be safe,” he said.
The governor wants the money to be put towards recommendations put forth by the Arkansas School Safety Commission. Some of the preliminary recommendations include mental health resources, locked doors, security cameras and having an armed school resource officer in every school building.
Fayetteville Public Schools plans to apply for the grant funds, which all grant applications will have to be approved by the state legislature. FPS also plans to apply for money through the Department of Education.
“Anything that can infuse additional support into schools to be able to provide the safest environment possible, we support 100%,” said Dr. Duncan.
During his Thursday press conference on the bill signing, Governor Hutchinson said the DOE is in charge of drafting the rules on how this grant money can be spent. He said the department will be in communication with the state legislature and will review the those final rules.
The Arkansas School Safety Commission is expected to put forth its final recommendations on October 1st.