BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — On Tuesday, parents got the chance to learn more about safety and security practices in Bentonville School District.
The district hosted a forum with its director of safety, and three of the four police chiefs from the jurisdictions it has schools in, Bentonville, Centerton, and Bella Vista.
“Safety is our number one priority,” said Dr. Debbie Jones, Superintendent at Bentonville Schools. “It comes before everything else that we do.”
She said it’s important that they keep open communication with parents about how they work to keep students and staff safe. About 40 people attended the meeting.
“We are working with parents and working with the community to be partners in security as most important,” she said.
The safety practices are also relevant for those leading the safety efforts.
“I do have a student in the schools,” she said.
“My kids go to the middle school district,” said Bentonville Police Chief Ray Shastid.
He said there are school resource officers in the junior and high schools, and the local departments provide officers who do regular patrol zone checks at the middle and elementary schools.
With staffing problems, the department isn’t able to put an SRO in every school building right now. This measure has been included in the preliminary Arkansas School Safety Commission recommendations. However, he said the City of Bentonville is providing funding for two new SROs for starting next school year.
“We can’t put officers in every school, but we started doing the school security checks,” he explained. “We’ve done about 3,776 school security checks since about August of 2018.”
Dr. Jones said Bentonville Schools has been at the forefront of school safety in other areas. She said the commission came and toured Bentonville High School to observe its safety measures.
One of those is the single point-of-entry for the building. Bentonville School District’s Director of Safety, Steve Vera, explained how not anyone can just walk into a school building.
“We have single-point entries to all of our schools, all of our doors remain locked. All of our classroom doors remain locked,” he said. “And so in order to gain access into the building, they have to be buzzed in using our audio video buzzin system.”
The police chiefs in attendance said their officers are regularly doing training on various threat scenarios in schools. Dr. Jones said all school staff members go through active shooter training annually.
Vera also does monthly checks of all the school buildings to make sure they are following safety protocols.
In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas mass shooting at the end of last school year, Bentonville parents had one major question.
“Parents are concerned about the response from police officers,” said Dr. Jones.
Chief Shastid told parents that whenever a major threat situation happens at a school elsewhere, they analyze how the police department handled that situation to see what they did right, what they did wrong and what his department can learn from that situation.
All three departments who were at the forum said they are ALERRT trained, which is a research-based active shooter training curriculum.
Chief Shastid said his department is trained that if one officer is the first to arrive on scene during an active shooter, that officer should immediately enter the building and start working to neutralize the shooter. He said they are trained to bypass anyone who is wounded in this effort to stop the shooter as quickly as possible.
Communication was the big theme of the night at the forum.
“We encourage you if you see something to say something to us,” said Chief Shastid.
The speakers encouraged parents to have conversations with their kids about active shooters, but also to keep an eye on social media. Vera said in most cases, people who become active shooters post their intentions on social media first. They encouraged parents to report any suspicious activity, whether it be in person or on the internet, to the police immediately.
The school district has an anonymous tip line where people can share information without revealing their identity. That number is 479-367-8080.