By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced a new state program allowing trained school administrators to arm themselves to potentially respond to violent threats.
The Alabama Sentry Program will consist of an administrative partnership between the Alabama Department of Education and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and carried out under existing law. It only applies to schools that do no currently have a school resource officer, which are law enforcement professionals either fully or partially employed to patrol school grounds.
Ivey said she agreed with the recommendation of her SAFE Council that additional school security funding is needed from the Legislature, and did not rule out calling a special session if lawmakers came to a consensus on the issue. Taking executive action to allow deputized administrators to carry firearms will immediately help schools without school resources officers have trained personnel on campus to protect students, she said.
“Until we have a consensus built and a concrete plan for SROs in every school, which will require a majority of legislative support, we must provide a way now for schools which do not have a resource officer to protect their students and to respond to an active shooter,” the governor said.
“With the unfortunate continued occurrence of school violence across our country, we cannot afford to wait until the next legislative session. Nor, should we waste the opportunity the summer break offers us, to develop and implement policies which will protect our children, in the upcoming school year.”
For schools without a school resource officer, a principal or other administrator who already has a state concealed carry permit would need approval of the local superintendent, school board, and county sheriff to apply for the Alabama Sentry Program. They would then be required to undergo training through a special ALEA program.
“Sentries” would be subject to ongoing drug screenings, training recertification, and annual mental-health assessments and stress-tests. They would only be allowed to carry specifically-authorized weapons and, in the event of a threat, required to put on a special bullet-proof vest.
ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said law enforcement responding to the scene could easily identify the vest to set the Sentries apart.
“We are going to have them put on a bullet proof vest to differentiate the Sentries. When the police arrive they will know the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.”
State Superintendent Eric Mackey said that many schools have been searching for answers to address school safety concerns, especially those in rural areas of those who can’t afford school resource officers.
“Every school board and superintendent right now is on heightened alert for school violence and school shootings in particular. So, they are looking for solutions and this is an answer,” Mackey said.
“We all know there are rural places of the state that are 20 minutes from the nearest sheriff’s office and may not have an SRO. So this is an answer for them, but remember, it is voluntary.”