When the new school year begins in Clarksville, Arkansas, some teachers will carry a slightly heavier workload - 9mm handguns. The school district is making use of a state law that allows teachers to carry concealed handguns on campus.
Clarksville High School, in a town of 9,200 in Arkansas, is giving concealed-carry weapons to around 20 teachers and staff members after parent hysteria over the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Arkansas law allows armed guards on school property, so the teachers and officials will undergo the 53 hours of training required to be considered “guards.” Clarksville has no history of armed violence, but calls from parents prompted the plan. State officials aren’t stopping it, but Arkansas’s minister of education says he is strongly opposed.
There are other dissenters, too. Donna Morey, former president of the Arkansas Education Association, called the idea of arming teachers "awful." The risk of a student accidentally getting shot or obtaining a gun outweighs any benefits, she said.
"We just think educators should be in the business of educating students, not carrying a weapon," Morey said.
Using students as actors helps trainers re-create the environment that teachers and staff would face in a typical school shooting, Hodoway explained. The students who participated in the exercise were children of the teachers and staff who were being trained.
Sydney Whitkanack, who will enter seventh grade this fall, said she's grown up around firearms and doesn't mind if teachers or staff are armed at school.
"If they're concealed, then it's no big deal," said Whitkanack, who was an actor in the training scenario. "It's not like someone's going to know 'Oh, they have a firearm.'"
Sherry Wommack said the program is one reason she's taking her son, an incoming eighth-grader, out of Clarksville's schools before the school year begins. Wommack said she doesn't believe teachers should make life-or-death choices involving students.
"I think police officers are trained to make those decisions, not teachers," Wommack said.
School employees participating in the program will be given a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a handgun and holster. Superintendent David Hopkins said that the district is paying approximately $50,000 for ammunition and for training to be provided 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. "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."
Signs will be posted at each district school about the armed guards, however the identities of faculty and staff carrying weapons will remain a secret, according to Hopkins.