SYLACAUGA, Ala. – On Wednesday, May 30, Governor Kay Ivey announced the Alabama Sentry Program, a program designed to arm school administrators as an extra measure of security to ensure school safety.
The program will be available to Alabama public school systems, with or without school resource officers, and enable administrators to have a firearm in a locked safe on school campuses.
How the program will work is greatly detailed in a memorandum sent by Ivey to Dr. Eric Mackey, State Superintendent of Education, and Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Hal Taylor.
The memorandum states becoming a sentry will be completely voluntary by an administrator, and the administrator must secure the approval of his or her superintendent, school board, and county sheriff.
Certified sentries must possess a valid Alabama school administrator certificate and valid concealed carry permit. A sentry must also undergo drug screenings, mental health assessments, a stress test, and be sworn in as a reserve deputy for the county sheriff.
Although sentries will go through these tests, Sylacauga Police Chief Kelley Johnson still has questions regarding the new program.
Johnson’s main concern was an administrators prior experience when dealing with weapons. “I think a lot will need to ride in the administrators background. I don’t think an administrator with no military or officer experience will be a good thing,” Johnson said. “If they’ve had some type of training or combat training then it may be a good thing, but if a person who has been a high school principal for the last 20 years – do I think they need to be in the schools with a gun – probably not.”
Johnson is also concerned with the tests sentries will have to pass, stating it is too easy to pass stress tests and mental health assessments. “Pretty much anyone can pass those tests, including people who do not need to be carrying guns,” Johnson said.
The plan, according to Ivey’s memorandum, is to eventually find a way to fund SROs at every school, which Johnson believes will be a much better solution to the issue at hand. “Having a school resource officer at every school is a much better answer. I think it would behoove the state officials to find a way to fund school resource officers through the state board of education, to designate them as full time school resource officers.”
“We hope to have a full-time school resource officer in each school by this next year,” said Johnson. “That’s one thing we’re going to be negotiating with the board of education soon.”
Interim Superintendent of Sylacauga City Schools Dr. Frank Costanzo also has his concerns regarding a school administrator being authorized to have and potentially use a firearm on a school campus. As a retired administrator himself, he sees many reasons for concerns, much of them dealing with training involved in the process.
“I would much rather have school resource officers because they are trained for this. I think it would take intense training if something happened for an administrator to be prepared and provide the safety necessary.”
Costanzo, as he stated, is reluctant to the idea and leans more towards having full-time school resource officers on school campuses. ‘There are a lot of issues I see as a retired administrator,” he said. “I feel we need to provide the funding for an SRO in every school system.”
Other concerns for Costanzo included how administrators will work with law enforcement if an active shooter situation arises and the overall policy behind the program.
Regardless of the means by which schools become safer, Costanzo feels it is an administrators duty, and a risk an administrator takes every day, to keep students safe.
The underlying agreement between Johnson, Costanzo, and Ivey’s memorandum to state officials seems to be the idea that students need to be kept safe while at school. How that happens, or the best principle to be used, however, is still undecided.