Local schools to participate in NRA pilot program
At their meeting on Monday, the Franklin County School Board voted to become one of the first school systems in the state to pursue a school safety program sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
The board voted 4-0 to pursue training options through the NRA School Shield Program, which would help train qualified volunteers to be part of a special school security force designed to protect the schools in emergency situations.
The creation of optional school security forces in the city and county schools is something that was signed into law during the recent Alabama legislative session through House Bill 404, which was sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay).
According to the legislation, which was signed into law as Act 2013-268, former and current school personnel, as well as community volunteers, can be trained as reserve sheriff’s deputies or police reserves and would have the authority to act as security forces on school campuses in the event that an intruder comes on the school’s campus with the intent to harm students or employees.
Morrow said he crafted the bill with the help of local school and law enforcement officials as a way to deal with the lack of funding for school resource officers in the county school system.
“Funding is just not available for the Franklin County School System to be able to provide a school resource officer in each of the county schools,” Morrow said.
“In rural areas, vulnerability exists because of a limited police force. Police response time in most of these places is 20 to 30 minutes. That means if a shooter came onto one of these campuses, the students and teachers there would have to sit and wait for 20 to 30 minutes for law enforcement to get there, and that could be a deadly time frame.”
The bill was vetoed twice by Gov. Robert Bentley before the House overrode the veto and passed the bill on the last day of the legislative session.
One of the issues the governor’s office listed for his veto of the bill was the uncertainty of the training for the school security force.
This was also a concern Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver originally had with the bill.
“I think this is a great solution to the issue of training these individuals who will be part of the school security force if the school board chooses to implement these security forces in the county schools,” Oliver said.
“I believe they will receive adequate training through the NRA’s program and it will be a good option for keeping our county schools safe.”
Michael Sullivan, a contract lobbyist for the NRA in Alabama, said the NRA School Shield Program is still in the developmental stages but is gaining interest across the nation.
Sullivan said the program has not been available to school systems in Alabama until the recent passage of House Bill 404, which made it possible for a person other than a school resource officer to carry a firearm inside a school building.
“The bill that Johnny Mack Morrow sponsored paved the way for us to be able to offer this program here in Alabama and the Franklin County School System will be one of the first in the state to be able to participate,” Sullivan said.
“The School Shield Program is actually very similar to what Johnny Mack outlined in his bill, which is basically that if a school cannot afford a school resource officer, the NRA is willing to step in and provide the training for qualified individuals to be able to carry a firearm on campus for the protection of the students.”
Sullivan said the School Shield Program was the NRA’s response to gun violence in the schools.
“Instead of the kneejerk reaction of banning all firearms or limiting magazines, which some law makers are suggesting, we are offering an alternative option to keep our children safe.
“We believe our children’s safety is better served not by banning lawful citizens from having firearms but by having a plan in place to have trained individuals available in the schools to defend these children in those extreme cases.”
Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams said he appreciated the efforts Morrow and Sen. Roger Bedford took to ensure the children in Franklin County had a safer learning environment.
“We’re excited to have the chance to participate in a program like this because we want our students to feel safe,” Williams said.
“I think this will be a great thing for our school system and I look forward to working to make our schools as safe as they can be.”