Sentinels and School Boards: South Dakota House Bill to Arm Schools Falls Short
Much of the appeal of empowering school boards to decide whether armed personnel belong in their buildings has been that it provides for local control. In theory, anything that brings decision making closer to the public, better approximates town hall style democracy, and therefore should be a step in the right direction.
However, this situation serves to highlight how the theory and the reality of the democratic process differ substantially.
Some of the problem stems from the way the polling schedule is set up. Beyond the obvious problem that compared to the elections for President or Congress, very few people actually vote for school board representatives, especially when those elections don’t coincide with those for higher office.
More importantly, the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary that has been the driving force behind the efforts to place ‘sentinels’ in schools has only happened so recently that no one currently serving on a school board was elected to that office based on their position on this issue.
If this were a question of lesser importance that might not be concerning, but it is not hyperbole to declare that this issue could literally be a matter of life and death, and as such, probably the most important decision school boards will make in the near future.
It stands to reason that voters ought to know how current and prospective school board members feel about this matter and get a chance to vote first, so that the decision made by the body can be said to accurately reflect the will of the community.
Another problem comes out of the way the bill passed by the South Dakota House has been drafted. In order to keep potential mass murderers unaware as to whether there actually are sentinels in any given school, school board deliberations on the subject are not to be a matter of public record.
This essentially prevents voters from being able to make informed choices as to who to elect or re-elect. More importantly this takes away the last resort option of concerned parents, the potential to vote with their feet. Anyone who feels strongly enough in whatever direction to want to move their child to another school, has no basis by which to decide upon where to enroll.
Both generally speaking and with this issue in particular, while there is good reason to want communities to have a more direct influence on the decisions that they will have to live with, the House bill falls far short of those lofty aspirations and its advocates are misleadingly trumpeting it as providing for local control.