Some area students plan to join a national walkout from classes later this month as school officials grapple with ways to increase security and ease concerns among students and parents in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school last month.
The Enough: National School Walk Out is scheduled for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. March 14. Douglas School Superintendent Alan Kerr said the walkout is a grassroots movement among students and the school does not have an official stance on political movements, but he encouraged his staff to use the opportunity for important discussions.
“It’s a great cause because everything with the school shootings has been horrific, and I’m glad the students are taking a stand,” he said. “If they are doing it in an intelligent way, that’s OK. If they are doing it just to skip school, we won’t tolerate that.”
The Rapid City school district has not decided yet how it will address a walkout.
“We want to honor our students’ right to express their views and opinions in a safe and respectful way,” said RCAS spokeswoman Katy Urban. “Our goal is to be proactive and do our best to plan to ensure students’ safety. At this point, we do not know exactly what that plan looks like. However we are engaging students to hear their ideas.”
Urban said any protest would not be endorsed by the district as it doesn’t support any viewpoint or advocacy group. But “at a minimum we are hoping to work with students in order to ensure safety in the event that a walkout does occur," she added. "In the coming days, we will be discussing this further — both as an administrative team, with our liaison officers, and with students.”
Protesting 'Congress' inaction'
A website listing the locations participating in the walkout named Kendall Diehl as the Rapid City event organizer. Diehl could not be reached for comment.
The website said the walkout is designed to "protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods. Students and allies are organizing the national school walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship.”
Kerr said that if Douglas students participate in the walkout, it will be a learning experience.
“We’re not going to discipline them if they leave,” he said. “But I told my staff, this is a great teaching moment to talk about what they do if they see someone alienated or being bullied.”
The staff, he said, will reinforce the mantra “see something, say something,” to students, Kerr added. “It’s reminding our students that if they see a kid struggling, to reach out, to be friendly."
Douglas adds liaison officers
The Douglas school district has taken other steps to ensure safety, including the hiring of two additional liaison officers, a move made by the board of education last month. The district will now have officers, all of them armed.
Kerr said he would rather have trained law enforcement personal armed on school grounds than teachers.
“I would rather have law enforcement officers, trained in weapons, de-escalation and hand-to-hand, than teachers having guns,” he said. “The liaison officers we have are great. They build relationship with students, and if something happens, they know where to go to take shortcuts to get closer to a threat.”
The district has also started training for ALICE, a strategy used in active shooter situations. ALICE stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate." The district will complete the training, which includes an online portion and building-specific training, this year and implement it next year.
The Rapid City school district is certified and implemented ALICE this year, Urban said. Some staff members and liaison officers also became certified ALICE instructors.
Safety forum planned
The Rapid City district plans to host a public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday to address concerns surrounding safety at the district’s 23 schools, Urban said. The event will be held at Western Dakota Tech Events Center. It will include a presentation on what the district is currently doing to keep kids safe and a question-and-answer session.
The forum comes on the heels of a Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead. School shootings have caused heightened awareness, officials say, and has been a catalyst for districts around the nation to reassess safety, emergency protocols and relationships with local law enforcement. It has also prompted a greater national debate about gun laws, mental health and bullying.
Urban said the Rapid City school district relies on the strong partnership it has with local law enforcement, including both the police department and sheriff department.
“I don’t think every community has what we have,” she said. “They know our kids. They have access to our schools. They come to the table and give us ideas. I think it makes our schools safer.”
A public park that dates back to the origins of the city of Box Elder will be getting some much needed TLC thanks to a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The $70,000 grant is part of almost half a million dollars in federal assistance being distributed to communities statewide for outdoor recreation projects. The money will be used to replace playground equipment such as swings and slides at Community Park, said Randy Kittle, grants coordinator for South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.
"The way it sounds, they're anxious to get going on this," he said.
Bob Kaufman, public works director for Box Elder, said the city expects to receive confirmation of the federal funds in mid- to late summer, and work on the playground is expected to begin shortly after.
Community Park is located near the intersection of S.D. Highway 1416 and South Ellsworth Road, close to the Bandit Ball Little League fields. Box Elder was founded in 1965, and Kaufman said the park equipment dates back to the 1960s or '70s.
He said the renovations to the park will enhance the experience of families coming to the Little League games.
After the work is completed, Kaufman said the next project for the city will be to make improvements to its baseball fields. City funds will be used to rebuild one or two of the fields, he said.
Nine other communities in the state, including Aberdeen, Sisseton and Doland, received funding under the grant.
"I commend these project sponsors for their strong commitment to improve their communities and make South Dakota a better place to live, work and play," Gov. Daugaard said in a release. "Their efforts will benefit future generations of South Dakotans."
Two men received a combined 10 years in prison Tuesday in the sexual assault of an unconscious woman in Box Elder.
Toby Rolfe, 44, was sentenced to eight years for third-degree rape, an offense committed against a female acquaintance at his Box Elder home in September 2016.
His co-defendant, Marvin Payne, was sentenced to two years in a separate hearing at the Pennington County Courthouse Tuesday morning. The 50-year-old Colorado resident earlier admitted being an accessory to a crime by taking cellphone photos of Rolfe molesting the woman.
The 28-year-old victim was unconscious and half-undressed when law enforcement arrived at Rolfe’s home, said the prosecutor, Deputy State’s Attorney Wayne Venhuizen.
Rolfe received the maximum prison time laid out in his agreement with prosecutors, a deal that allowed a judge to find him guilty by relying on the grand jury transcript of his indictment.
Rolfe had asked 7th Circuit Judge Robert Mandel for either a probationary sentence or a term of less than eight years. Defense attorney Ellery Grey said Rolfe and the victim were engaging in consensual sex while partying at his house, though the sexual activity should have stopped the moment the woman passed out. The two apparently had a sexual history.
Payne had also molested the woman in a “more limited” degree, the prosecutor said during Payne's sentencing.
Grey said also that the victim’s falling unconscious was not Rolfe’s design. She was drinking hard liquor that night after taking meth and other drugs, yet neither Rolfe nor Payne was found with any evidence of drug use, the lawyer said.
The victim didn’t want to appear at the hearing after receiving death threats from Rolfe’s friends, Venhuizen said.
The judge, echoing the prosecutor’s earlier statement, said Rolfe hadn’t expressed remorse, taken responsibility for his offense or shown concern for the victim.
“The victim was at your house, because — to put it simply — she was somebody you can use,” Mandel said before sentencing Rolfe to 25 years in prison with 17 years suspended.
Rolfe will be eligible for parole after serving six years. The suspended portion of his sentence could come into play if he violates parole, Venhuizen said after the hearing.
Payne had asked for either a probationary sentence or additional time in county jail, citing his remorse, lower level of culpability and cooperation with authorities.
His lawyer, Jamie Patterson, said Rolfe would have gone ahead with a trial if Payne had not agreed to cooperate, including testifying against his friend.
The judge said he would consider sealing Payne’s criminal record down the road, depending on Payne’s behavior while serving his time.
PIERRE | The South Dakota Senate approved a measure Wednesday that would ask June primary voters to make changes to the Marsy's Law constitutional bill of rights for crime victims previously passed at the ballot.
House lawmakers would have to agree with the unusual move to place the measure on the June ballot rather than wait for the November election. Lawmakers are advancing changes to the constitutional amendment under an agreement with a group that has persuaded voters in several states to approve versions of Marsy's Law.
The new proposal would ask voters to make changes to the amendment including requiring victims to opt into many rights, explicitly allowing authorities to share information with the public to help solve crimes and limiting the definition of a victim.
Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, a supporter of the changes, said Marsy's Law has caused unintended consequences for local governments and problems for authorities. He said the Marsy's Law campaign would like the vote "expedited" and that putting the measure on the June ballot could save counties money.
"I know this is unusual, but I believe the seriousness of this question and the willingness of the parties to work together should warrant our approval of this amendment to the bill," Bolin said in asking lawmakers to move up the vote from the general election to the primary.
Democrats, who currently don't have primary races for governor or U.S. House, oppose a June vote. Democratic Sen. Troy Heinert said turnout will be "exceptionally lower" for parties without primaries.
"Short of taking off of work, driving to town, coming to vote on this specific ... amendment, what is the incentive to get out and vote?" he asked.
But the chamber voted 27-8 to advance the measure. Bolin said the push would also require another bill.
South Dakota would be the first state to alter Marsy's Law out of the six that have enacted it. It guarantees crime victims and their family members the right to privacy, protection from harassment or abuse and timely notice of trial, sentencing and post-judgment proceedings.
It's named after California college student Marsalee "Marsy" Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. The measure passed with about 60 percent support in 2016, but critics say it's causing problems for law enforcement and prosecutors and spiking costs for counties.