ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page and Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell plan to have armed volunteers in place to provide added security at all 25 of the county schools by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
“The schools in general are known as gun-free zones, and when you say that, that also sets your school up for potential risk,” Page said on Tuesday.
It would be called a Volunteer School Safety Resource Officer Program. North Carolina General Statute 162-26, which was adopted about four years ago following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The law was revised in 2017.
“I’m not aware of any law enforcement agency in North Carolina that’s doing this,” Page said.
“If we’re the first ones then we can kind of set the tone and set the standard for the state,” Shotwell added.
Volunteers would be heavily vetted and need to meet a strict set of criteria. For example, they must have experience as a sworn law enforcement officer, or as a military police officer with at least two years of experience. If a person is no longer with the armed services, they must have an honorable discharge.
“It’s a chance for them to give back as a volunteer, to help protect our kids, our most valuable resource in this county,” Page said.
“We’re not just gonna put somebody in the school just because they volunteer, and I think that’s really the key piece,” Shotwell said.
Although it’s still in the developmental stage, Page believes he can get the program up and running before the next school year.
“We want to do our part to make sure our teachers and our kids and administrators in our schools, they’re safe to do their job, which is to teach our children,” he said.
FOX8 spoke to parents and grandparents waiting to pick up students at Rockingham County High School in the hours following the announcement from the sheriff.
“I’m ashamed it’s come to this,” said Marion Laster, who was waiting to pick up her grandson. “I’m sorry it’s come to this, but I want our children to be safe.”
“I think it’s needed,” added Sandra Edmonds, who was also waiting to pick up her grandson. “It can happen. It can happen anywhere.”
Page said the program would come at almost no cost to the county.
“So we can move forward and identify those volunteers, get them trained and be ready for when the school year starts,” he said.
Shotwell adds that the volunteers would also build relationships with the students, similar to current school resource officers.
“It’s a huge win for the volunteer, giving back to the community, and for us, it’s a big win because our kids are gonna see a presence at their school,” he added.
G.S. 162–26 reads:
(a) The sheriff may establish a volunteer school safety resource officer program to provide nonsalaried special deputies to serve as school safety resource officers in public schools. To be a volunteer in the program, a person must have prior experience as either (i) a sworn law enforcement officer or (ii) a military police officer with a minimum of two years' service. If a person with experience as a military police officer is no longer in the armed services, the person must also have an honorable discharge. A program volunteer must receive training on research into the social and cognitive development of elementary, middle, and high school children and must also meet the selection standards and any additional criteria established by the sheriff.
(b) Each volunteer shall report to the sheriff and shall work under the direction and supervision of the sheriff or the sheriff's designee when carrying out the volunteer's duties as a school safety resource officer. No volunteer may be assigned to a school as a school safety resource officer until the volunteer has updated or renewed the volunteer's law enforcement training and has been certified by the North Carolina Sheriff's Education and Training Standards Commission as meeting the educational and firearms proficiency standards required of persons serving as special deputy sheriffs. A volunteer is not required to meet the physical standards required by the North Carolina Sheriff's Education and Training Standards Commission but must have a standard medical exam to ensure the volunteer is in good health. A person selected by the sheriff to serve as a volunteer under this section shall have the power of arrest while performing official duties as a volunteer school safety resource officer.
(c) The sheriff may enter into an agreement with the local board of education to provide volunteer school safety resource officers who meet both the criteria established by this section and the selection and training requirements set by the sheriff of the county for the schools. The sheriff shall be responsible for the assignment of any volunteer school safety resource officer assigned to a public school and for the supervision of the officer.
(d) There shall be no liability on the part of and no cause of action shall arise against a volunteer school safety resource officer, the Sheriff or employees of the sheriff supervising a volunteer school safety officer, or the public school system or its employees for any good-faith action taken by them in the performance of their duties with regard to the volunteer school safety resource officer program established pursuant to this section. (2013-360, s. 8.45(e).)
The school board would still need to approve the program.
“I think that would be probably a good presence. Like I said, I hate that it looks like it’s come to this but look around us. Look at what’s going on all over the country, and everybody says, ‘Well it’s a small town, it’s not gonna happen here,’ sure it is,” Laster said. “They’re small towns too.”