MONTGOMERY — A state representative from Red Bay is proposing law enforcement train and make reserve officers of certain willing educators in order help protect schools in emergencies like last month's shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
The proposal by Johnny Mack Morrow, a Democrat, appears different from one a Republican lawmaker is working on in that it would give more training and oversight responsibility to local police and sheriffs.
Morrow said Monday he's especially concerned about rural schools, like many of those in his district, because in some cases it could take police up to 20 minutes to reach them in an emergency.
"You can imagine what an AR-15 (semi-automatic weapon) could do in that amount of time," Morrow said.
The volunteers would have to be approved by the local sheriff or police chief, Morrow said. The sheriff or police chief would then be responsible for training and equipping these security forces, all of which would be paid for by an appropriation from the Education Trust Fund budget, according to information from the House Democratic Caucus on Monday.
Morrow said he is still crafting his bill and he plans to meet with educators and law enforcement officials in Franklin County later this week.
Gary Williams, superintendent of Franklin County Schools — which has several schools in remote parts of the county — is in favor of Morrow's proposal, in part because of the law enforcement component.
"If we can find quality people to train and work under the sheriff and have them there on site, I think that would be a good thing," Williams said. "I don't think that you could just give any and every teacher who has a gun permit (permission) to carry a gun in school."
Morrow said his plan does not include forcing law enforcement agencies into complying with the program if they don't want to.
"I'm not going to make them do it, because if they don't want to, they won't do a good job," Morrow said.
Another proposal from Democrats involves putting more school resource officers on the job. According to a news release, it would cost about $50 million a year to put a resource officer in all 1,475 Alabama public schools. One piece of proposed legislation will require the state to pick up half that cost.
Last month, Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, said he will pre-file a bill that will allow schools to arm a few teachers or administrators. Rich said it would be up to superintendents to decide who could have access to firearms.
Some lawmakers and other state officials will meet in Montgomery on Wednesday to discuss school safety. But a member of the Alabama Board of Education said Monday that while he appreciates lawmakers' ideas on school safety, "any initiative of this magnitude should originate with the state board."
"Any issues like this related to the health and safety of students need to go through the board of education, that's our charge," said Dr. Charles Elliott, R-Decatur.
He said the state Department of Education has safety experts that should be consulted.
"This is primarily a state board matter for it to bring to the Legislature," Elliott said. "I'm looking forward to the discussions we're going to have."
Alabama's 2013 legislative session begins Feb. 5.
Mary Sell is Montgomery bureau chief for the TimesDaily. She can be reached at mary.sell@TimesDaily.com.