South Dakota OKs armed teachers, but school districts prove slow to sign on
South Dakota was the first state in the nation explicitly authorizing school employees to carry guns on the job, but school districts have been hesitant to pick up arms as of July 1, when the new law went into effect.
The New York Times reports that dozens of states had varying degrees of interest in arming teachers in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, but so far South Dakota has been the only state that followed through with authorizing firearms in K-12 schools.
The new law permits school districts to allow an employee, a hired security officer or a volunteer serving as a “sentinel,” to carry a weapon on school grounds. The school district would have to obtain permission from the local police force, and the armed individual would have to undergo training similar to what a law enforcement officer receives, according to the New York Times.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard told the New York Times he did not think many schools would take advantage of the option, but that it was important for them to have the choice available.
Attorney General Marty Jackley, whose office is in charge of writing training materials for school sentinels, told the Associated Press some school board members have asked about the program, but none have notified his office on a vote to implement it.
Executive Director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, Rob Monson, along with school administrators and teachers opposed the measure, said putting guns in schools makes them dangerous places to be. “We still believe the schools are extremely safe places,” Monson told the AP. He went on to say schools across the state are working to make entrances more secure and taking other steps to improve safety.
According to the AP, a school board must decide in a public meeting to enact the policy, and a district’s residents could force a public vote on the board’s decision. The school board could not force an employee to carry a firearm.
Rep. Scott Craig (R-Rapid City), the bill’s main sponsor, told the AP that law enforcement officers are stationed at bigger city schools, but some rural schools in the state are as many as 45 minutes away from the nearest police help. He said the knowledge that an armed volunteer is in a school could dissuade a would-be attacker.
"It's safety. It's the premise, the appearance of safety, that we protect that which we hold most valuable, which is our children," Craig told the AP.
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, told the New York Times the group lobbied for the bill’s passage in the South Dakota Legislature last March. Arulanandam said that arming teachers isn’t the answer everywhere, but it could be a start. “There’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach to keeping our children safe in schools,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon state and local governments to formulate and implement a plan to keep students safe.”
Craig told the AP he expects South Dakota school districts will take their time in deciding on the program. “Some folks are going to watch and see what it looks like the first year,” he said.