LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas school district that trained more than 20 teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus through a program that faces questions over its legality was wrong to make secret the names of the employees, the state's top attorney said Monday.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an advisory opinion that the Clarksville School District was incorrect to withhold the names of the employees it had trained to work as volunteer, armed security guards. McDaniel last week said that the state board in charge of regulating private investigators was wrong to license the western Arkansas district as a private security firm under a little-known law the school had used to arm its employees.
In response to KHBS-TV, a northwest Arkansas station that had requested the names of the employees Clarksville had trained for its "Emergency Response Team," McDaniel wrote that the information wasn't exempt from the state's open records law.
"Given the unusual duties and responsibilities the school district intended to assign to the ERT members, I must conclude that knowing the number of ERTS members and their identities would shed great light on the school district's performance of its duties," McDaniel wrote. "In my opinion, though the privacy interest is weighty, the public's interest is at least as weighty, which means that the record must be disclosed."
David Hopkins, Clarksville's superintendent, said he wanted to discuss the opinion with the district's attorney before deciding whether to release the names. The district approved the program to arm teachers and staff in response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six teachers dead in December.
Hopkins said the district had decided to withhold the names because of fears that participants in the program would be targeted.
"If someone were trying to put together some sort of plan, they would have a lot of information available to them if they knew who it was and where it was in the building," Hopkins said.
McDaniel told a lawmaker last week in an advisory opinion that the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Companies was wrong to issue licenses to Clarksville and 12 other school districts that classified them as private security firms. Arkansas law allows licenses security guards to carry weapons on campus.
The board is scheduled to meet Aug. 14 to discuss the licenses.
Participants in Clarksville's program are given a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a handgun and holster. Hopkins said the district is paying about $50,000 for ammunition and for training by Nighthawk Custom Training Academy, a private training facility in northwest Arkansas.
The 53-hour training program included roleplaying drills of school shootings, with teachers and staff using "airsoft" pellet guns, with students wearing protective facemasks and jackets.
McDaniel last week said it's up to prosecutors whether or how to proceed against school employees who are relying on the licenses to carry concealed weapons on campus.