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School sentinel program takes shape

Scott Craig

PIERRE -- The new law providing for school sentinels in South Dakota took effect July 1, but a state official anticipates training won't start until next summer.

State authorities are putting the qualification requirements and training framework into place.

The proposed regulations receive a public hearing today at the state's criminal justice training center.

They will need final clearance from the Legislature's rules review committee.

That will probably come in September.

Sentinels will be required to receive 80 hours of initial training. They will learn and be examined regarding use of firearms, use of force, legal aspects, retaining and storing of weapons, identification protocol and first aid.

The training will be provided by the training academy operated under the state Division of Criminal Investigation and the office of Attorney General Marty Jackley.

For efficiency, the initial plan calls for a training class to have at least five members.

"I suspect that our first real opportunity will be to provide a sentinel class this next summer," DCI director Bryan Gortmaker said.

That's because the likely school employees that are designated as school sentinels would find it difficult to be away from school two weeks during the academic year to attend the training course, he said.

So far, there isn't a waiting list.

"We have not had any communication yet from school districts that have indicated the school board has approved a school sentinel program, or a specific school sentinel nominee," Gortmaker said.

"Nor have we received any communication yet from any sheriff's or chief's office indicating they have been approached by a school board as of yet with a nominee for them to approve," he continued.

The charge will probably be $700 per sentinel.

The initial approval will be good for 12 months.

Renewal each year will require eight hours of annual training and annual firearms recertification with the sentinel's handgun that can be conducted at the training center or at another approved course with a certified instructor.

School boards have the only authority to submit names of applicants for approval as sentinels.

The proposed requirements call for an applicant to be a U.S. citizen at least 21 years old who has been finger-printed, has good moral character, is a high school graduate or has an equivalency degree and has passed a physical examination by a licensed physician.

The applicant must have been interviewed in person by the local school board and have the board's approval, as well as written approval from all law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over the school premises where the person will act as a sentinel.

A further proposed regulation states the applicant can't have unlawfully used any prescription drug, controlled substance or marijuana within one year before the time of application for training.

The fingerprints will be distributed to local, state and federal authorities as part of the criminal background check.

The training for a sentinel will be much narrower than for a police officer or sheriff's deputy.

"The sentinel training itself is focused just on the school sentinel duties to react to an active shooter threat, provide school security during these active shooter threat events, and provide first aid during these incidents," Gortmaker said.

The sentinel training must be completed before the sentinel can carry a firearm at the school.

A police officer or deputy can start work and has one year to complete training.

Firearms generally have been prohibited on school grounds other than for law enforcement officers and with some other exceptions. The legislation allowing specifically for armed school sentinels was sponsored by Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City.

Whether to have school sentinels is up to each school board. If a board chooses to implement a sentinel program, that decision can be referred to a local vote.

The referendum option was added at the suggestion of Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center.