House Bill 1087, or as it is more widely known as, the School Sentinel Bill, has taken a long road to approval since it was introduced to the South Dakota House of Representatives on January 17th of this year. But no matter the length of time it took, the bill was passed by both the House and Senate in early March and delivered to Governor Dennis Daugaard’s desk on March 7th where Daugaard signed it into law.
The bill’s goal is to help protect the unprotected by arming either a school employee, hired security personnel, or volunteer. Essentially, the bill would allow school boards to decide whether or not they wish to have someone in their school carry a gun to “secure or enhance the deterrence of physical threat and defense of the school, its students, its staff, and members of the public on the school premises against violent attack.”
The idea behind the bill has not sat well with everyone, with people having grave concerns about allowing firearms in the same building as kindergartners.
“I'm not sure if more guns in the school is the answer. We are lucky that our police force is only seconds away unlike some other areas of South Dakota,” said Flandreau Superintendent Rick Weber. But as of now, Flandreau has access to a School Resource Officer (SRO) who is a police officer that is in the building during school hours and all sporting events.
That is a big reason why Dr. Leslie Heinemann, the District 8 Representative, helped introduce the bill.
“I have been a supporter of the school Sentinel program because it is essentially the same program Flandreau Public has in place today,” Dr. Heinemann said. “It appeared to me, after visiting with local law enforcement and individuals involved with our local resource officer, to be a reasonable approach to furthering the issue of school safety with the decision being made at the local level.”
But another school superintendent that is in the district Dr. Heinemann represents also disapproves of the idea, and they don’t have access to local police force, at least not within a 10-minute drive.
“I'm all for local control, but I see nothing good coming out of a bill that gives school boards the authority to allow certain employees, except licensed resource officers and law enforcement, to have guns in school,” Darold Rounds, the Colman-Egan Superintendent said. “I love to hunt and I own several guns and I practice safety all the time. However, every year we hear of people that were killed or seriously injured because of gun accidents. I know there are two sides of every issue, but I feel having guns in our schools would cause more problems than they would solve,” Rounds added.
The two Moody County superintendents take the same stance as District 8’s other representative, Scott Parsley.
“I strongly believe you can not solve violence with violence,” said Representative Parsley and he proved that time in and time out while the bill was still on the floor. “I have opposed HB 1087 every time the bill has been on the House floor. In fact I have spoke against the bill every time the bill was on the floor. In fact I made a motion to not concur with the Senate, however the motion failed.”
There are a lot of factors that go into the School Sentinel bill that cannot be explained in this article but one thing that is important for people to know is that if local school boards do approve the use of a school sentinel, you could have a say in it as well.
According to the bill “A decision by a school board to implement a school sentinel program pursuant to section 1 of this Act may be referred to a vote of the qualified voters of the school district by the filing of a petition signed by five percent of the registered voters in the school district, based upon the total number of registered voters at the last preceding general election.”
In other words, if the board approves it, and five percent of the registered voters in the school district sign a petition, the program will go to a community vote.
Only time will tell what will happen at your local school but both Colman-Egan and Flandreau plan on discussing the issue during their board meetings in April.
For a complete reading of the finalized bill, you can visit http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2013/Bill.aspx?File=HB1087ENR.htm