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Tri-Valley School could be state's 1st with armed sentinels

COLTON (AP) -- A school district in southeastern South Dakota has taken a step toward becoming the first in the state to allow school employees to carry guns under a law approved three years ago.

COLTON (AP) - A school district in southeastern South Dakota has taken a step toward becoming the first in the state to allow school employees to carry guns under a law approved three years ago.

The board of the Tri-Valley School District gave unanimous approval Monday to a so-called school sentinel program. Final approval could come next month, but the policy wouldn't take effect immediately. State law requires that school personnel be trained, and parents could also choose to put the issue up for a vote.

Superintendent Mike Lodmel said in a statement Tuesday that the district of nearly 900 students moved to start the program over concerns about the rural location of its only building and how long it would take law enforcement to respond to a crisis. Colton has fewer than 1,000 residents and is about 25 miles northwest of Sioux Falls.

The decision comes five months after a teenage student at Harrisburg High School, about 35 miles away, was charged with attempted murder in the shooting and wounding of the principal.

But Lodmel told parents in a letter Tuesday that, "This was not a knee-jerk reaction to recent news events."

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"The board has devoted substantial time, thought, discussion, and planning in reaching this decision, and has involved law enforcement throughout the process," he wrote.

State legislators passed the school sentinel law in 2013, three months after the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Supporters of the law argued that school boards, particularly in rural areas where no law enforcement officers are stationed in school buildings, need the option of arming teachers, administrators or volunteers to protect against attacks.

The law requires anyone taking part in a school sentinel program to complete training designed by the same commission that sets training standards for law enforcement officers. Local law enforcement agencies also have to approve such a program, and school employees cannot be forced to take part.

The district has already been in contact with its insurance carrier and has sought information from law enforcement regarding training, which is expected to last 80 hours and would address firearms proficiency, use of force, legal issues, first aid and weapons retention and storage. The district says it won't release the names of people designated to carry guns.

Reaction among parents is mixed, KSFY-TV reported.

Becky Sehr said she would be comfortable with trained school staff having guns.

"I would rather have someone there who can respond right away if something is happening than wait 20 minutes for a cop to show up," she told the Sioux Falls television station.

Shayna Weinacht said she worries about unintended consequences.

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"I've got little girls in (school), and what if somebody accidentally got ahold of the gun?" she said.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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