The ABCs of South Dakota's School Sentinel Program

The issue of "guns in schools" is a recurring one in our state legislature. With that background, here are the ABCs of the South Dakota School Sentinel Program.

What is the South Dakota School Sentinel Program?

The South Dakota School Sentinel Program was passed in 2013 and allows a school board to create, establish, and supervise the arming of school employees, hired security personnel, or volunteers in such a manner as the board believes will be most likely to secure or 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.

Does the School Sentinel Program require the approval of local law enforcement?

Yes. Before any school board may implement the Program, or make any material changes in the Program’s personnel or protocol, the school board must obtain the approval of the law enforcement official who has jurisdiction over the school premises. Any material changes in the Program’s personnel or protocols must be reported to all law enforcement agencies within the jurisdiction over the school premises.

What training does a school sentinel have to complete?     

A person who acts as a school sentinel must first successfully complete a school sentinel training course as defined by the Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission.  

May a school employee refuse to carry a firearm?

Yes. A school board may not arm any teacher or other school employee without that person’s free, willing, and voluntary consent. Also, a teacher or other school employee may not be censured, criticized, or discriminated against for his unwillingness or refusal to carry a firearm.

How does the School Sentinel Program impact a concealed weapon permit?

No provision of S.D.C.L. § 13-32-7 or any other state law restricts or limits the Program. However, the Program does not authorize a person to carry a concealed weapon without a valid permit.  

Does a school board’s failure or refusal to implement the School Sentinel Program create a private cause of action?

No. A school board’s failure or refusal to implement the Program does not constitute a cause of action against the school board, the school district, or any of its employees.  

May a school district’s decision to implement the School Sentinel Program be referred to a public vote?

Yes. A school board’s decision to implement the Program may be referred to a vote of the school district’s qualified voters.    

What is the process for referring a school board’s School Sentinel Program decision?

A school board’s decision can be referred by filing a petition signed by five percent of the registered voters in the school district, based upon the total number of registered voters at the last preceding general election.

Does the School Sentinel Program provide immunity from liability?

Yes. The Program provides liability immunity for certain persons and entities. Specifically, S.D.C.L. § 13-64-15 provides "No law enforcement officer or county sheriff, nor the Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission, Division of Criminal Investigation, Office of Attorney General, the State of South Dakota, nor any agents, employees, or members thereof, is liable for any injury caused by, related to, or resulting from:

  1. The implementation of the school sentinel program established by this chapter;
  2. The adoption, promulgation, administration, or implementation of educational and training standards for school sentinels;
  3. The training provided by the Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Office of Attorney General, or the state;
  4. The approvals required by the county sheriff under this chapter; or
  5. The performance, administration, or implementation of any services or programs that assist a school district in carrying out its duties under this chapter."

For more information about South Dakota's School Sentinel Program, read Chapter 30 of The South Dakota School Law Deskbook.