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Safety bill focused on school building access reaches Senate floor

Brent Duerre

South Dakota lawmakers have advanced a bill regulating school safety rules despite opposition from some in the education field.

Senate Bill 103, a proposal to standardize school safety practices, advanced from Senate Education unanimously Tuesday. It was brought by Hartford Republican Sen. Brent Hoffman.

Hoffman previously bought a more robust school safety package, SB 34, which was killed in committee on the back of concerns about liabilities to school districts. He said 103 has a narrower scope.

“If a door is unlocked during regular hours and students are present, so those three criteria, an employee must be present," Hoffman said. "Other clarifies on the second part, if locked during regular hours students present shall be monitored. It’s about controlling access.”

The proposal wasn’t without criticism, with many key school lobbies speaking in opposition.

Doug Wermedal is executive director of the state Associated School Boards. He said it creates an unpredictable legal element for schools.

“The bill is unnecessary because this work is occurring," Wermedal said. "Schools are monitoring with available personnel as much as possible with staff demands, and putting this into statute won’t necessarily enhance school safety, but it will create an additional liability.”

There are also cost implications to school districts, namely with the instillation of video monitors, which led some to describe the bill as an unfunded mandate. Rob Monson, executive director of the state School Administrators, also framed his opposition as a workforce issue.

“Let’s just say you have Sally Jo whose assigned to watch the door that’s open on her end of the building," Monson said. "That day Sally Jo calls in ill, now the expectation will be that’s the substitute teacher whose supposed to be in there. The substitute teacher might be trying to get everything ready in the classroom that day, and not able to stand out in the hall and watch a door they’re supposed to watch.”

Despite this opposition, the bill sailed to a unanimous do pass recommendation.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture