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Sentinel Program Part Of Tri-Valley School Safety Plan

A school safety plan at a southeast South Dakota district includes allowing people who are not law enforcement access to firearms on school property. The Tri-Valley school board Monday approved the first reading of a sentinel program.

Nearly 900 students in kindergarten through the 12th grade attend Tri-Valley school in Colton. The building sits outside of town across from a field.

School board chair Leslie Johnson says the location means authorities need time to respond to threats. Johnson says that’s one motivation to allow people who are not law enforcement access to guns on school grounds.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Superintendent Mike Lodmel, School Board Chair Leslie Johnson

"‘Why not?’ If something happened, how could you stand back and say, ‘I wish we wouldn’t have done that.’ Hopefully it will sit there and we will never have to do anything with it, but if something tragic happened at this school and  we didn’t do it, you’ll always be asking the ‘What if?’" Johnson says.

South Dakota law permits schools implement sentinel programs to “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.”

School sentinels need to complete 80 hours of training. District leaders say they won’t reveal which adults meet the requirements and have access to firearms on school property.

The sentinel plan is part of comprehensive security updates. Superintendent Mike Lodmel says a system-wide alert system offers unique safety features.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB

"We didn’t buy a product because this is a product offered. We had the opportunity to go to that individual and say, ‘This is what I want. Make it happen. I want to be able to push a button, instantaneously have people notified that there’s a threatening situation going on in our district, where was that button pushed so we know it’s going on there, and what are our procedures for if anybody would be in the building as in a substitute role,’" Lodmel says.

Lodmel says the combination of technology upgrades, a school resource officer, and the sentinel program better ensure the safety of Tri-Valley students and staff.

The superintendent says board members and other school leaders have spent months deciding whether to add a sentinel program. He says he’s talked with teachers and sent information to parents so they have details of the plan.

"I guess how I interpret it is, here is the decision our school board has made, and we want people to understand why. If you don’t agree with it, here are your remedies, your procedures. But quite frankly I believe our communities are going to be extremely supportive of this," Lodmel says.

Members of the Tri-Valley school board in Colton voted Monday to approve the plan. The sentinel program needs another vote at the April meeting to become part of the district’s policy.