PIERRE, S.D. - A proposal to allow school boards to arm school personnel passed through the Senate State Affairs Committee Friday. House Bill 1087 says school boards, if they choose to take part in the School Sentinel Program, must coordinate with local law enforcement and with the Division of Criminal Investigation to develop safety procedures and provide weapons training to employees who want to carry firearms.
Senator Craig Tieszen has a long history in law enforcement. He says he was a police commander in 1991 when a student took a Rapid City classroom hostage.
After that event, he says there were 13 copycat threats made by students.
“And so we reacted to each one of these schools and made decisions about letting out school, locking down the school, arresting students,” he says. “It was a horrible time. Attendance at schools went down measurably as parents were afraid to send their students to school.”
Tieszen says South Dakota is not immune to school violence, so last fall he started working with other legislators to come up with a response. The result is the School Sentinel Program.
The superintendent at New Underwood School District believes there has to be a better means of dealing with threats.
“Have we now reached the point in this nation and in this great state where we are now ready to say to our public, to our parents, and more importantly to our students, that our state has gotten so bad and so unsafe and so dangerous that we must now attend school in an armed fortress?” asks Jeff Marlette. The retired Brigadier General says even with training, school personnel cannot safely engage in a firefight in a classroom or hallway.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for debate. If it passes that chamber, it goes to the Governor for his signature.