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A 2013 state law allows school board to institute a school sentinel program, which could allow staff to carry guns. The Rapid City Area Schools Board discussed the issue during Monday's meeting.

Chris Huber, Journal staff

It’s been five years since the school sentinel bill sponsored by Scott Craig of Rapid City was signed into law. Most school districts didn’t like it then and still don’t like it for numerous reasons, including one that everyone who pays property taxes should be able to agree with — it could cause catastrophic damage to a school district’s finances.

Rapid City school district Superintendent Lori Simon spelled it out to sentinel supporters who brought their political agenda to Monday’s school board meeting.

The discussion started before the 17-minute student walkout on March 13 when gun advocates asked to participate in the protest to educate students about school sentinels, who can be teachers, school staff members or volunteers that are permitted to carry guns in schools.

After the Rapid City school district denied the request, they decided to ask the school board to devote resources to studying a sentinel program.

“If schools are safer now, then why do we have a countrywide march to disarm law-abiding citizens?" asked one woman, referring to nationwide student protests after the school shooting in Florida that claimed 17 lives, including 14 students. She wants the school district to form a task force.

Tonchi Weaver of the activist group Citizens for Liberty asked the district to hold a study session with law enforcement officials and insurance experts to explore the need for more armed individuals in schools even though many parents and the police department don't want to see that.

Simon later explained, however, why the idea is a non-starter, which is something that every fiscally conservative government watchdog should understand. She explained that the district's insurance underwriters will only cover shooting incidents involving "school resource officers and armed security guards."

In other words, school sentinels are extreme liability issues. If they shoot anyone, it likely would lead to a civil lawsuit that would cost the district thousands of dollars in legal fees and much more if damages were awarded — and all at taxpayer expense if there is no insurance coverage.

She went on to say that as a result "any consideration is a waste of time, energy and focus," which should come as a relief to those who complain about the impact the schools have on their property taxes.

If the school district is going to hold a study session, the focus needs to be on making schools safer without invoking the Second Amendment and an individual's right to bear arms.

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On Wednesday, the Journal reported that the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center will purchase portable metal detectors with grant money from the South Dakota Office of Homeland Security in order to comply with requests from promoters that demand better security at their shows.

Courthouses have used metal detectors for years with great success, preventing the kind of gun violence that occurs all too often at schools, churches, businesses and the workplace in the United States.

At Columbine High School in Colorado, where 13 students were shot to death in 1999, doors that can only be opened from the inside have been installed to keep intruders out. The district also has taken steps that make it more difficult for students to get trapped if a shooter is rampaging through the school.

Other options for improving school safety exist and should be explored by the school district and state Legislature, which has done nothing to make schools safer beyond passing the school sentinel bill, which puts all the burdens and costs on school districts and local law enforcement.

As much as some want to make this a Second Amendment issue, it's really a school-safety issue. As Simon said, the district can't afford to take a chance on sentinels. In a rational debate, it would end the discussion and other options would be explored. That's what needs to happen. The school district already has too much on its plate to become another Second Amendment battleground.

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