FORT SMITH, Ark (KFSM) — On Tuesday (Aug. 13) more than 14,000 kids returned to school in Fort Smith, the largest school district in the River Valley.
The start of the new school also marks the first day of implementing new safety measures.
In 2018, voters passed a millage which granted many updates and new facilities to the district.
Over the summer, "secure vestibules" were constructed in several elementary schools and two middle schools. The vestibules help staff monitor who comes in and out of the buildings more closely.
“For visitors to know exactly where to go rather than walking in the front door and roaming the hallways. This will actually direct them to the school office where they can be directed and checked and find out exactly what their purpose is and we can assess the visitors more effectively," said Fort Smith Public Schools Police Chief and Facility Director Bill Hollenbeck.
There are secure vestibules in Fairview, Cavanaugh, Sunnymead, Spradling and Morrison Elementary Schools and in Chaffin and Kimmons Junior Highs. The vestibules will soon be installed in every school in Fort Smith.
Southside principal, Lisa Miller, said the vestibules won't break ground at the high school until the fall but they're excited about the changes that are coming.
“The plans are really great. They really have taken into account safety and security for all of our students and faculty members alike," Miller said.
According to parents, the upped security is worth the tax.
“I’ve always been nervous in the past because it just seemed like people may be able to walk in, but they’ve really tightened that up," said parent Michael Oldham. "There’s nobody getting into these schools, getting out of these schools without them knowing in the front offices now. So happy parents here.”
“Fort Smith, the River Valley, is a really great place to live in compared to other places. We have safety issues. We have security issues. But nowhere near other areas in our country, I praise God for that, that we can live in an awesome area that’s protected and secure. At the same time, we have to be wise and use wisdom to protect our babies," said JoAnna Brewer, a parent of a Fairview fourth grader.
Another safety initiative being implemented this school year is the district's very own police department.
The Fort Smith Public Schools PD came about due to the governor's Safe School Task Force that recently passed. Fort Smith is one of only seven school districts in the state that have implemented its own police department.