Rockingham County sheriff, lawmakers hold conference on armed volunteers at schools

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- A plan to put armed volunteers in Rockingham County Schools is gaining support across the state.

Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page and Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell plan to implement the program and provide added security at all 25 of the county's schools by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

“You can’t predict an event, but you can prepare for these types of scenarios," Page said.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers, county officials, police chiefs in Rockingham County, and sheriffs from Randolph, Henderson and Caswell counties joined him in support.

Page says he's been considering this idea for years, but after the school shooting in Florida earlier this month, he brought it to the superintendent. Now, they're officially getting the ball rolling.

“We want to take action," Page said.

The Volunteer School Safety Resource Officer Program stems from a law passed in 2013 after the school shooting at Sandy Hook.

The program would allow armed, trained volunteers to provide extra security at schools, but they'd have to meet specific qualifications.

"Vetting, training and selecting the right people are absolutely essential," Sen. Ron Rabin said.

Volunteers must be a sworn law enforcement officers or have at least two years of military police officer experience. If they were in the military, they must have been honorably discharged.

"I've had several calls at the office from retired veterans as well as retired law enforcement and also some concerned parents that were willing to be volunteers if they qualified," Randolph County Sheriff Robert Graves said. "So it's a lot of interested. Everyone wants to help do what we can to keep our children safe."

On top of that, the volunteers will have to go through intense training to be certified, beyond what the state offers through concealed carry classes.

"I've taken that training, I've also been in the chaos of combat, and I will tell you that training is insufficient for the type of thing we're talking about," Rabin.

"This law pretty much makes those volunteers have to go through what is tantamount to what a police officer would have to have in order to be a school resource officer," said Sen. Phil Berger, who supports the plan.

Lawmakers revised the program last year, but so far, Page says no school districts have implemented it. He wants Rockingham County to be the first.

“If we’re successful, we have the opportunity to create a model and template for the rest of North Carolina to follow so other school districts can protect their school districts and children,” Page said.

“We’re probably ahead of the curve, I would say, in North Carolina in even having this law on the books,” Berger said.

Berger said the program could work in other districts, but it will be up to local law enforcement and school boards to decide if it's right for them. Rockingham County does not have a a school resource officer in every school, but Berger says other districts that have enough SROs may not feel the need to implement this program.

“I think they’re in a better place to decide what’s the most optimal action for them to take in order to protect students and protect teachers,” Berger said.

Page said this program is just one way to keep students safe. He'd like to see more full-time SROs and funding to add more counselors in schools.

“Is this program the total solution? No," he said. "I just see this as one tool in our tool box provided to help law enforcement supplement school safety coverage."