MELLETTE, S.D. Keeping students safe is a priority for most school faculty members across the nation and Northwestern Area School is ready to bring on an armed staff member with the use of a sentinel program.
The sentinel program is only in the beginning stages at the school, but staff members are ready to take the steps they need to make sure their students are safe. Many believe it's the district's way at looking at all the options to protect the kids. Right now, the school has physical security, video surveillance and emergency plans, so adding an armed staff member is a way be proactive about the overall school security.
Northwestern Area School is one of two South Dakota districts to adopt the sentinel program. Last summer, Tri-Valley School District was the first to arm a staff member following the state approval in 2013.
The designated staff member will stay anonymous to everyone inside and outside the school. This could help keep student/teacher relationships positive.
"That teacher relationship is our first priority. For the safety aspect of it, you don't exactly want everyone to know who that person is and hopefully we never have to use it," says Noelle Swanson, the Ag Education teacher for junior high and high school.
It's just another added resource to make everyone feel safe at the school.
"We're over 20 minutes from any police force being able to respond to an event, so with that in mind is one of the reasons why we decided to move forward," explains Ryan Bruns, the Northwestern Area School District superintendent.
A school sentinel has quite a bit of training to go through. It's virtually identical to what police officers go through. The designated staff member will go through courses on firearms proficiency, use of force, legal aspects, weapons retention, identifying protocol for identifying sentinel and first aid. There's at least 80 hours of training required to become a school sentinel.
It's not just the school board and the superintendent who decides who becomes a sentinel. Local law enforcement must agree to any of the district's plan.