By John Balch
With school security and student safety again thrusted to the forefront with recent national tragedies, the South Pike County School Board took another step at its March meeting to improve campus safety with the hiring of a full-time school resource officer.
Pike County Investigator Wayne Epperly of Murfreesboro was hired by unanimous vote to be school district’s first-ever school resource officer. Epperly, a 1999 Murfreesboro High School graduate, began his career in law enforcement 2006 and has worked for the Pike County Sheriff’s Department, and the Nashville and Murfreesboro police departments. He is also currently enrolled in college and majoring in criminal justice.
Epperly will officially start his job with the school July 1, but he has been working with the school officials for months as part of the district’s contract with the ALICE Training Institute. (ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.)
In 2016, the school district entered a contract with ALICE, a company that specializes in school security and trains employees to deal with emergency situations such as an active shooter on campus.
Epperly, who is also a certified firearm instructor, has been approved by the Arkansas State Police to serve as the district’s manager of the ALICE program and training. He, along with Superintendent Roger Featherston and maintenance supervisor Troy Stone, recently attended a two-day training session to become certified to conduct the drills involved in the safety program. Epperly said he will continue to take more classes as part of his training.
The district is currently in the process of getting seven staff members trained to become commissioned school officers and instructors, which will include firearm training, while other staff members are working to complete online ALICE training. There will a total of 60 hours of training, as prescribed by the state police, for the seven commissioned employees, according to Supt. Featherston.
Once 75 percent of the staff has completed the online training, Featherston said emergency scenarios and drills at the school will be conducted.
Epperly’s hiring comes in a week that the newly-appointed 18-member Arkansas School Safety Commission began assessing the state’s school safety measures. The commission was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in response to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting on Feb. 14 where 17 people were killed.
Part of the state commission’s goals will be to conduct “school climate surveys” where the voices and ideas of students will be heard during school visits.
The commission is also tasked with evaluating state laws and working to enhance safety features already in use by school district.