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AG's Office expects more interest in school sentinels

Now that one school has signed up for school sentinel training, the Attorney General's Office expects more to come forward. The Tri-Valley School District in Minnehaha County unanimously approved a school sentinel policy during a board meeting Mo...

Now that one school has signed up for school sentinel training, the Attorney General's Office expects more to come forward.

The Tri-Valley School District in Minnehaha County unanimously approved a school sentinel policy during a board meeting Monday night, becoming the first educational facility in the state to take advantage of legislation passed in 2013 that allows school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers to carry a firearm on school grounds.

Sara Rabern, spokesperson for the South Dakota Attorney General's Office, said other school districts that have been considering a school sentinel policy may now follow suit.

"Our assumption is once one school district came forward, we'll probably have more," Rabern said. "We think that some schools are probably waiting to see if somebody else is going to do it."

Rabern said three schools contacted the Attorney General's Office since 2013 with interest in the program, but she did not disclose their locations.

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On Tuesday, the Attorney General's Office confirmed the creation of the first School Sentinel Training Program from July 25 to August 5 at the Law Enforcement Training Academy in Pierre.

Rabern said the training dates were set a couple months ago after Tri-Valley gave an indication that the board was likely to approve the measure. The dates were announced Tuesday so interested schools could send their representatives for training at the same time.

The course may be offered on a yearly basis, Rabern said, but as of yet, there is no formal plan for the future.

"What happens if we have two schools that contact us in September? Can we wait until the following summer?" Rabern said. "I think it's too soon to know."

The course costs a school district $800 per participant and will provide 80 hours of training, including firearms proficiency, use of force, legal aspects, weapons retention, weapons storage, protocol for identifying a sentinel and first aid.

Attorney General Marty Jackley did not give his opinion on the program but released a statement announcing the creation of the training course.

"The Legislature has set a policy to allow school districts the ability to create a school sentinel program. My responsibility as attorney general is to provide training to better ensure firearm safety and that sentinels are brought into the overall law enforcement school shooting operation plan," Jackley said in the press release.

To gain approval to carry a firearm, a staff member must be a U.S. citizen who is 21 or older, have fingerprints taken by law enforcement, display good moral character, be a high school graduate or equivalent, be examined by a physician, be approved by the school board and local law enforcement agencies, have not used illegal substances within one year before applying and hold a concealed weapons permit.

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Although the school sentinel program has gained traction at Tri-Valley, it has faltered in Mitchell.

A few months after the legislation was approved in 2013, Mitchell Christian School considered the idea of having a school sentinel.

But that has since changed with new administration at the school.

"We're not considering it at all. I don't see the need for Mitchell Christian to do that," said Gary Cookson, principal of Mitchell Christian School.

Cookson said Mitchell Christian relies on the Mitchell Police Division's school resource officer, who is nearby if the school needs security.

"The Mitchell police department is wonderful," Cookson said.

Rabern said the school sentinel program was a "heated legislative topic" three years ago, so she expects some schools to face opposition if they decide to follow Tri-Valley's example.

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