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Safety, hiring more officers discussed at Fort Smith Public School Board meeting | #schoolsaftey

With two weapon-related incidents at Fort Smith Public Schools in the first two weeks of the school year, FSPS administration is looking for ways to make sure students and staff are kept safe while in school.

On Aug. 16, Northside High School administrators and Fort Smith Public Schools Police Department officers responded to a report of a student vaping, a news release from the district said. The school officers searched the student and discovered a firearm in the student’s backpack. School police immediately confiscated the firearm and arrested the student. The student was charged with a felony and the case was referred to the Fort Smith City Prosecutor’s Office, the news release said.

On Aug. 22, FSPS reported a “safety incident” at Ramsey Middle School, where a student brought a knife to school and subsequently threatened a staff member outside of a classroom. Ramsey school administration and an onsite FSPS officer responded and disarmed the student.

“The safety and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff remain our top priority, and we are committed to maintaining a secure environment for everyone within our school,” said FSPS Police Department Chief Bill Hollenbeck, following the incident.

No students or staff were harmed in either incident, but administration has fielded many questions regarding student safety from the public and the FSPS Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski told school board members at the board’s regular meeting Monday (Aug. 28).

“We had several recent incidents at our campuses involving weapons, and we’ve received some questions from the public but also from the board about what’s being done and what’s being considered,” Morawski said.

He outlined a number of things the district was doing to assure safety, including hiring more school resource officers (SRO) for the district.

“The board had previously discussed interest in adding school resource officers to support our elementary schools as well as provide additional coverage for secondary schools, including Belle Point,” Morawski said. “We reviewed funds available through Enhanced Student Achievement (ESA) funds, and we will be able to fund 4 additional SRO positions this year.”

The officers will provide needed support at the district’s 19 elementary campuses as well as additional support for secondary campuses, including Belle Point Center and Peak Innovation Center, and administrative facilities. Morawski said officers would have a rotation system, so they will have certain areas they will cover.

“It was important to me in discussing with the team as well that although they will be available if there was a large-scale incident that needed their support at a high school or middle school, their primary focus will be elementary schools and campuses not currently served,” Morawski said.

“We are having a crisis nationally, and I think we need to make sure that we make the time for our children, the administrators, the teachers and our community at large,” said School Board Vice President Talicia Richardson, who said ideally in the future, FSPS would have school resource officers at all the 19 elementary school as well as all the secondary schools.

Morawski said the new SRP positions will be posted soon, but that realistically it will be December or January before the positions will be filled and at the schools. The FSPS Police Department grew to eight full-time police officers and two part-time officers in the 2021-22 school year. Hollenbeck has previously said FSPS has one officer at each of its four middle schools and two officers at each of the two high schools. The part-time officers primarily work in the elementary schools.

The district’s security, facilities and technology departments are also reviewing weapon detection systems that could be installed in the schools, Morawski said. They also will be looking at the foot and car traffic pathways in regards to campus access.

“I know systems like this have been used in other schools with some success. We will continue to research this and bring this back to the board with more information, including cost and realities for the campuses,” Morawski said.

The new dean positions added at both Northside High School and Southside High School this year will assist with student discipline and also to free up time for assistant principals for their duties, which can increase the campus safety and improve the environment, Morawski said.

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