FORT SMITH — The School District is considering additional safety protocols after responding to two incidents involving weapons since the start of the school year.
The first incident occurred Aug. 16, when a Northside High School student was arrested in connection with having a firearm on campus.
The gun was discovered when school administrators and the district’s Police Department responded to a report of a student vaping and searched their backpack, discovering the gun, according to a district news release. The statement said school police immediately took the gun and arrested the student, and no students or staff were harmed during the incident. The student was charged with a felony, and the case has been referred to the city Prosecutor’s Office.
The second incident occurred Aug. 22 when a Ramsey Middle School student reportedly brought a knife to school and threatened a staff member outside a classroom.
A news release from the school states Ramsey school administration and an on-site district police officer promptly disarmed the student and nobody was harmed. The student was arrested.
The School Board on Monday held its first meeting since the new school year started Aug. 14.
Superintendent Terry Morawski said several things are being done or considered regarding school safety. Dean positions have been added to Northside and Southside high schools this year to assist with student discipline, allowing assistant principals to focus on campus safety and improving the school environment, he said.
Morawski said the district is looking to hire four more school resource officer positions to support Fort Smith’s 19 elementary schools as well as the Belle Point Center and Peak Innovation Center.
“Although they will be available if there was a large scale incident that needed their support at the high school or middle school, their primary purpose will be elementaries and campuses that aren’t currently served,” he said. “That’s something that we’ll be able to post those positions. Realistically, we’re looking at probably more like December or January time frame by the time we can post and hire for those positions, but we’re excited to be able to add that support for the district.”
Addie Reith, a communications specialist for the district, said the new officers’ starting salary is $44,760, but can vary based on their experience, and comes from the district’s Enhanced Student Achievement funds.
“This has been in the works since April,” Reith said. “Chief Bill Hollenbeck presented to the board an update on the Fort Smith Public Schools police, and at that time, board member Dalton Person mentioned he wished we had more manpower, especially at Belle Point, and additional help with the 19 elementary schools.”
Reith said the district’s police currently has 10 full-time officers, as well as Hollenbeck, Lt. Eric Huber, a social worker, a dispatcher and a substitute officer.
The district is also reviewing weapon and vaping detection systems at district campuses. The exact scope and price for these systems will be brought to a future board meeting for discussion, Morawski said.
“They are truly trying to research things that are not as intrusive, but we also have to keep in mind there are full-time jobs that would need to be accounted for,” board member Talicia Richardson said about district administration. “In an ideal situation it would be nice to have 19 officers, one per each elementary school. We have the opportunity for the private sector to be involved. There are so many different options. But again, we have to start the conversation, and the good thing is that the district has already begun these processes before we began the school year.”
The School Board on Monday also unanimously approved participating in the child and adult care food program for the 2023-24 school year.
A news release from the district said free and reduced-price meals for children are served under the National School Lunch Program, Spice and The National School Breakfast Program, and each school and the central office has a copy of the meal policy.
Reith said the applications are due Sept. 25 and can be found on the website under child nutrition; breakfast is free for all students.
The release said free and reduced-price lunches are considered by household size and income criteria, and only one application should be submitted per household.
To apply, households must complete the application and return it to the school. All information must be provided as described in the instructions provided with the application. Applications may be submitted at any time during the school year, according to the release.
The release said children who are members of a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, qualify for free meals. It said school officials will determine eligibility for free meals based on documentation obtained directly from the SNAP office and will notify households of their eligibility.
Households notified of their eligibility but who don’t want their children to receive free meals must contact the school. SNAP households should complete an application if they aren’t notified of their eligibility by Sept. 25, the release said.
“You never can tell when you qualify, so it’s best to fill out that application and turn it in,” Charles Warren, the district’s chief financial officer, urged at the meeting.