LITTLE ROCK — The head of a state board that voted to allow some public school districts to arm teachers and staff said Thursday he opposes arming teachers but said the board voted as it did in the expectation that the Legislature would take action on the issue.
A state senator said Thursday he may propose abolishing the board.
Jack Acre of Little Rock, chairman of the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, appeared before the House and Senate judiciary committees to answer questions about the board’s decision in September to allow 13 school districts to use teachers and staff as armed security guards.
The districts had obtained authorization to arm employees, some of them decades ago, based on an interpretation of state law that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an Aug. 1 opinion was erroneous.
The practice received media attention after the Clarksville School District said it planned to arm two dozen teachers and staff members. After being asked by a state legislator for an opinion on the matter, McDaniel said the board cannot authorize districts to arm their employees, although he said districts could contract with private security agencies or use school resource officers for security.
At a Sept. 11 meeting, the board voted 3-2 to allow districts that had already been approved to use employees as armed security guards to continue doing so for two years. The board said it would accept no new applications during that time.
Acre said Thursday the board hopes to see legislative action to address the issue before those two years are up.
“We wanted to put it back in these guys’ lap,” he told reporters after testifying before the judiciary committees.
Rep. Patti Julian, D-North Little Rock, asked Acre during the hearing, “So you’re telling me that members of the board basically decided to absolutely disregard the opinion of the chief legal officer of Arkansas?”
“Three of them did,” Acre said, adding that McDaniel’s opinion was not binding.
Acre noted that he was one of the two “no” votes.
“Schoolteachers are educators. I cannot see why a teacher personally needs to be armed,” he said. “A teacher cannot stand up in front of a classroom, keep one eye on the classroom and one eye on the door and an ear on the hallway. Their job is to teach those students the best they can.”
Acre also said he was concerned about students possibly getting their hands on guns.
“What’s going to happen if some irate kid back there in the back gets hacked off at the teacher or gets mad at another student and, knowing that the teacher’s got a weapon on them, goes up there and overpowers the teacher and takes the gun away?” he said.
Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, whose district includes Clarksville and who supports letting schools arm teachers, took issue with Acre’s comment that teachers cannot keep one eye on the classroom and one eye on the door.
“Whether you’ve got a gun or whether you don’t have a gun, if you’re a teacher, with the environment we’ve been in in the last few years in this country, you’re going to be looking at that door,” Stubblefield said.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that in next month’s fiscal session “one thing I’m inclined to do is abolish the board and allow the state police to (take over its duties).”
Acre, who owns Razorback Security Service of Little Rock, said he did not believe the state police — currently the administrative agency for the board — could fulfill the board’s role effectively. He told reporters the state needs a regulatory body that can police investigators and security agencies and punish rule violators, which he said the state police lacks the expertise and manpower to do.
“They don’t have the manpower to do what they need to do right now,” he said.