by Max Brantley
Dr. David Hopkins, superintendent of the Clarksville School District, called today to say that after further study he's convinced Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's opinion on arming of school district staff members is wrong and Clarksville will challenge that interpretation if a state regulatory agency sides with McDaniel.
An official opinion by McDaniel this week said public schools didn't qualify, as private businesses did, to be licensed to employ their own staff as armed security, if properly trained. Clarksville, and several other districts, have received licenses for this purpose. The issue came to a head on news that Clarksville had trained 20 or more staff members to be armed. It paid each a $1,000 stipend to purchase semi-automatic pistols to carry in concealment as added security in the 2,400-student district.
Friday, Hopkins had said he would "stand down" on armed staff and respected McDaniel's opinion. But he said he'd had time to study it further and also confer with the district's private attorney, Jay Bequette of Little Rock. Now, he says he believes that McDaniel's opinion came out of "left field."
The critical part of the opinion pertains to the part of state law that allows a private business to seek a license to use staff as security for its own business, but no one else.
“Security department of a private business” means the security department of any person if the security department has as its general purpose the protection and security of its own property and grounds and if it does not offer or provide security services to any other person.
The term “person,” in turn, denotes the following:
“Person” means an individual, firm, association, company, partnership, corporation, nonprofit organization, institution, or similar entity.
Hopkins says he and his legal counsel have concluded that the district meets the definition of a "person" — institution or similar entity — seeking to provide security for itself and no one else.
"That's the way the State Police and the board have interpreted it for 20 years," Hopkins said.
So what now? Clarksville will see if the regulatory agency that operates within the State Police structure, but is comprised of political appointees, will withdraw previously granted licenses or reaffirm them. That agency, Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, meets again a week from Wednesday.
If the board upholds previous licenses, "We're back on go," Hopkins said. If not and the license is withdrawn, the school district is prepared to mount a legal appeal, he said.
Hopkins said he was firmly convinced now that the attorney general's opinion was in error. He said he hadn't talked to any outside groups about the issue — such as the National Rifle Association — but he said his local state senator, Gary Stubblefield, was firmly in the district's camp in moving ahead with the broad use of armed staff, at least one for each 120 Clarksville students in five schools.