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Guns in schools: Arkansas district will arm 20 teachers and staff

Clarksville school district is the latest rural school in a conservative state to give teachers handguns. But soaring insurance costs have often made such programs prohibitively expensive.

By Chelsea B. SheasleyCorrespondent / July 30, 2013

In this photo taken July 11, a firearms instructor (r.) guides a Clarksville school teacher during a training session at the city's high school in Clarksville, Ark.

Danny Johnston/AP/File

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A small school district in Arkansas will arm 20 volunteer teachers and staff with handguns starting in the fall, reigniting debate about the best way to protect children in schools.

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Chelsea Sheasley is the Monitor's Asia Editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine.

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The district will be the first in the state to arm teachers and is doing so under a state law that allows licensed, armed security guards on campus. The school’s participants in the program, whose identities will be kept secret, will be considered security guards after undergoing 53 hours of training.

"The plan we've been given in the past is, 'Well, lock your doors, turn off your lights and hope for the best,' " Superintendent David Hopkins told the Associated Press. "That's not a plan.” 

Mr. Hopkins said a wave of parent calls after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last December caused him to reevaluate their procedures, even though the town of 9,200 people about 100 miles northwest of Little Rock isn't known for being dangerous.

State officials have not blocked the plan, even though Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell has said that he opposes arming teachers and staff. Instead, he supports hiring law enforcement officers as school resource officers.

Participating staff in Clarksville’s schools will be given a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a handgun and holster. The district will pay about $50,000 for ammunition and for training by Nighthawk Custom Training Academy, a private training facility in northwest Arkansas.

“That teacher is going to respond to one thing and one thing alone, and that's someone is in the building either actively or attempting to kill people," Jon Hodoway, director of training for Nighthawk said. "That's it. They're not going to enforce the law. They're not going to make traffic stops. If somebody is outside acting the fool, they're going to call the police."

At a recent training session teachers and administrators practiced using airsoft pellet guns to shoot a student pretending to hold another at gunpoint. 

One of the student simulators, Sydney Whitkanack, said she’s not concerned about having teachers or staff armed.

"If they're concealed, then it's no big deal," she said. “It's not like someone's going to know, 'Oh, they have a firearm.' "

Others, like former president of the Arkansas Education Association Donna Morey, strongly opposed the plan, citing concerns over a student accidentally getting shot or taking a gun.

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