A bill that would allow school boards to decide whether or not to start a school sentinel program by arming personnel or volunteers passed the House Education Committee on Friday with an 8-7 vote. The legislation will now move forward to the House floor.
HB1087 was amended to include required firearms training for school sentinels as well as approval from the county sheriff before school boards can implement the bill. The amendment also states that a board’s decision to participate in a school sentinels program would be made in executive session.
The bill’s narrow victory was in part due to dissenting views of committee members who, among other things, expressed differences over the concept of being proactive.
While some legislators stated that being proactive in this case would be to let school boards decide to arm school employees, others said that the bill is reactionary.
Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, said that a more proactive approach would be to assess the safety of rural schools and to look into providing better mental health services for children.
The bill does not force school districts to participate, but several representatives in favor of the legislation said that rural schools in South Dakota would benefit most from this program.
Rep. Elizabeth May, R-Kyle, noted that there are some school districts who can’t afford to rely on law enforcement for protection because their schools might be 60 miles away from a police station.
Superintendent Don Hotalling of the Stanley County School District said in an interview that in his opinion, having a school resource officer is sufficient. However, he also added that in Stanley County this isn’t an issue because law enforcement is located directly across from school grounds.
“You’d just have to think through whether or not you would arm just about anyone and whether that would be wise,” Hotalling said. “Even though some teachers have some former military experiences, that was years ago. I’m not trained like a police officer, so having a resource officer as a professional would be the proper thing to do.”