In response to mass shootings across the country, Alabama officials have agreed to allow the arming of some administrators. Details of the program, however, remain shrouded in secrecy.
The Alabama Sentry Program allows armed administrators to use lethal force if a gunman were to enter a school. Only school districts that don’t have a school resource officer can sign up for the program. Updated information about the program – including estimated costs and the number of school districts who are a part of the program — is not being released to the public, multiple state officials said.
Ivey’s press secretary Gina Maiola said the program is “active.”
“The specific details of that are protected under the Sentry Program,” Maiola said. “More of our schools are adding SROs, which is good news for the safety of our students. The program is active and unique to each school.”
The sentry program is part of Gov. Kay Ivey’s safety initiative, which began in 2018 after 27 students and staff members were killed during two school shootings that occurred within a few months of each other – at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and at Santa Fe High School in Texas. That same year, Ivey also appointed the Securing Alabama’s Facilities of Education (SAFE) Council whose responsibility is to study school safety.
Members of the council are ALEA, the Alabama State Department of Education, and the Departments of Mental Health, Information Technology and the Community College System.
ALSDE said it doesn’t release information regarding school safety. State Superintendent Eric Mackey said the department also doesn’t keep a list of sentries or armed officers.
“I agree with that premise. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency heads up that effort and has the expertise and experience in safety and security to best facilitate that program,” Mackey said.
During a press conference in Orange Beach on Monday, Ivey mentioned the program while commenting on the two mass shootings that killed 31 people last weekend. The shootings at an El Paso, Texas shopping center and a Dayton, Ohio, nightlife district happened within hours of each other.
The shootings also happened while parents and guardians were getting their children ready for their first week of school.
“I hope all schools are hiring SRO’s, and (most) are and that’s a good thing,” Ivey said. “A sentry program is designed only for those schools that don’t have SROs. It’s a good program and I encourage anyone who doesn’t have an SRO to look at the Sentry program.”
Ivey didn’t go into detail about how many schools don’t have SROs. The School Superintendents of Alabama estimates that just under half of state’s more than 1,300 schools had a full-time SRO at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. That number is expected to change since schools can now use some of the money earmarked for technology for school safety measures, according to a memo sent to school districts on June 6.
Ivey’s office, ALSDE and ALEA didn’t answer Al.com’s questions regarding whether or not local police officers will be told who is the sentry in their school systems.
Teachers, staff, parents and other members of the community won’t know if their school is part of the sentry program. According to a 2018 memo about the sentry program, the names of the administrators, schools and school system participating in the program will not be released.
“The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency does not provide information regarding school safety plans,” ALEA spokesperson Robyn Bryan said.
According to the 2018 memo, sentries are required to wear an ALEA-designed bulletproof vests that will help law enforcement identify who is the shooter and who is an armed administrator. State authorities didn’t answer questions regarding the costs of vests.
In order for an administrator to be considered as a sentry, they must have a valid school administrator certificate and a valid concealed-carry permit, according to the memo. They also have to pass a mental-health assessment, a stress test, an initial drug screening and – if chosen – random drug screenings. They then move on to be approved by the local superintendent and board of education.
The administrator will also be vetted by the county’s sheriff to become a reserve deputy sheriff, but they won’t have the power to arrest anyone. Sentries will also have to complete an ALEA-based training module annually. Sentries are only allowed to access the weapon when an intruder has entered the school. Otherwise, the gun must be locked up in a biometrically-secured safe that will be attached to the school building.
Local school boards are responsible for paying and maintaining a weapons-storage system, an approved weapon, ammunition, accessories and the ALEA-designed bullet-proof vest. SAFE council members will pay for the trainings.
Ivey’s office, ALSDE and ALEA didn’t answer questions concerning whether or not those trainings have started or the costs of the trainings.