NORTH SIOUX CITY | Don’t expect to see armed teachers in Siouxland South Dakota schools this year. Instead, many districts will continue to rely on school resource officers.
The Dakota Valley, Elk Point and Vermillion school districts will not utilize a new state law that allows teachers and volunteers to carry firearms in buildings. The bill was signed into law in March, following the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
School boards must vote to adopt the South Dakota program, which also needs to be approved by local law enforcement.
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, in June said he expected school districts will take their time in deciding whether to embrace it.
"Some folks are going to watch and see what it looks like the first year," Craig said.
The Dakota Valley school board declined to bring the item up for vote this summer.
“There doesn’t seem to be any interest on the board or in the community for this measure,” said Superintendent Al Leber. “The law does say the community can come forward and ask for a public vote, but we have not heard any feedback.”
While Leber said police are minutes away from Dakota Valley in the event of an emergency, supporters of the law believe the program might be needed in rural areas, where law enforcement agencies are miles from schools.
The South Dakota Department of Education is not aware of any districts that have opted to arm staff.
Associations representing school boards, school administrators and teachers opposed the measure during the legislative session, saying that armed teachers or volunteers could increase the danger of accidental shootings or create problems if students find a gun.
Vermillion Superintendent Mark Froke said the district has school resource officers and a police station nearby.
“For us in Vermillion, we feel this is something that could open the door for more problems and potential incidents,” he said. “This was a local decision.”
Elk Point Superintendent Brian Shanks echoed Froke’s concerns.
“It just was not an option to our school board,” Shanks said. “The liability outweighed the potential advantages; we have sunk money into security in lieu of the armed sentinel option.”
Security at all the districts include locked doors, cameras and limited entrance points, in addition to using school resource officers supplied by local police or sheriff’s offices.
The firearm program requires teachers or volunteers to go through 80 hours of training before they could carry a weapon in school. That training, coupled with the start of school approaching, means districts are unlikely to arm teachers this upcoming school year, Leber said.
“That’s two weeks of training,” he said. “If a school hasn’t done it yet, they probably won’t do it this year.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.