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Ivey authorizes sentry program to arm school administrators

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced a program that would authorize certain school administrators to undergo training and have firearms on school campuses.

Local educators said it was too early to react to her announcement without more information, but the Alabama Association of School Boards issued a statement Wednesday afternoon indicating its members prefer the continued use of school resource officers (SROs).

The statement read, “School boards overwhelmingly view trained SROs as the optimal first line of defense against school violence and do not believe arming school personnel is a long-term solution; however, we recognize the governor’s desire to move quickly to ensure the safety of Alabama’s schoolchildren. The Alabama Sentry program appears to be a reasonable, interim solution with some sensible safeguards until the legislature can address this issue and identify a long-term plan to fund SROs.”

Ivey said the Alabama Sentry Program, which will begin immediately, is a voluntary program, which will permit administrators in schools without a SRO to maintain a firearm on campus in a secured safe in order to be prepared to respond to an active shooter situation.

Currently, each campus on Covington County Schools has a resource officer, Superintendent Shannon Driver said.

Florala High School shares a SRO with W.S. Harlan Elementary School and Fleeta Junior High School has a part-time SRO. There also is an SRO for Straughn, Red Level and Pleasant Home, all of whom are funded by the county board of education, but who work for Sheriff Dennis Meeks.

“It is definitely something that we will have to discuss with the board,” Driver said of the proposed sentry program. “We will have to look and see if we even have a need for it.”

Superintendent of Opp City Schools Michael Smithart said that the Opp system does not have any SROs, but said it is premature to make a comment on the issue.

“It sounds like a good idea on the surface,” Smithart said. “But I think I need some time to look over the rules and make sure I understand everything.”

Andalusia City Schools has one resource officer.

The Sentry Program will require that the administrator successfully complete training created and certified by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

It will be established immediately, through administrative action, under existing law. The Alabama State Department of Education and ALEA, acting through the Governor’s Securing Alabama’s Facilities of Education Council, will develop a memorandum of understanding, implementation of regulations and guidance to participants. The ALEA and ALSDE will also establish guidelines for training requirements, stress tests, mental health evaluations and drug screenings.

Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey said schools must be safe places for children to learn.

“Schools are sanctuaries of learning, knowing that the adults around them are watching out for their safety and security,” Mackey said. “The Alabama Sentry Program is one way for us to put more safety resources in schools without having to seek new funding. This is truly a step in the right direction. I look forward to working with Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Hal Taylor and the entire SAFE Council to implement this program.”

School Sentries will be required to keep their firearms in a secured weapon storage system and their employing board of education shall be responsible for acquiring and maintaining a weapons-storage system, an approved weapon, ammunition and a specially designed bullet-proof vest.

According to Ivey’s announcement, a school sentry’s duties will be written to include the use of lethal force to defend the students, faculty, staff and visitors of his or her school from the threat of imminent bodily harm or death by an armed intruder.

 

“The Alabama Sentry plan is a reasonable and measured approach to provide an additional tool for schools without a resource officer,” Ivey said.

“With the unfortunate continued occurrence of school violence across our country, we cannot afford to wait until the next legislative session.”