MONTGOMERY — A bill to allow current and retired teachers and other Franklin County residents to become part of an armed and police-trained school security force passed the Alabama House on Thursday.
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow’s bill makes it voluntary for teachers to become reserve sheriff’s deputies or reserve police officers and puts the responsibility of training and supervising the “emergency security force” on local law enforcement.
Teachers would not be paid more for serving on the force and any costs associated with training and equipping them would be paid by the local school districts.
Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams said he hasn’t heard much reaction from parents since Morrow announced the proposal last month. Williams said there has been “mixed emotions” from educators in his district. He stressed the training would be optional and not every teacher would be carrying a weapon in school.
“(It would involve) only those who are capable of carrying a weapon and, more importantly, capable of handling an emergency situation,” he said. “There will be extensive training — it won’t be taken lightly.”
The remoteness of some of the schools within the Franklin County system was part of the reason Morrow, D-Red Bay, came up with the bill. He said some are 20 minutes from emergency responders. Morrow wrote the bill after 20 young students were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December.
He has a statewide version of the bill that has been assigned to the House Education Policy Committee for review.
Morrow, amended the bill this week to also allow for training for bus drivers, gun violence prevention and the “use and safe keeping of mace, stun guns, Tasers and other non-lethal weapons.”
Morrow said the amendment is a response to the recent fatal shooting of a Dale County bus driver and week-long hostage situation involving a 5-year-old boy.
“I felt like we needed to do something for bus drivers,” Morrow said.
The bill, HB116, now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said Thursday he hasn’t read the bill and wants to reserve comment until he has done so.
“I’ve had people contact me in support of it and I’ve had people contact me against it,” Bedford said.
Democrats in the Legislature are pushing a bill that would put armed resource officers in every school in the state, something that they say will cost about $50 million a year.
Russellville City Schools Superintendent Rex Mayfield said he’s in favor of anything that will help school systems become safer. He added there are many logistical details in Morrow’s bill that will have to be worked out between his district and law enforcement before any security force is created.
In the meantime, Mayfield has three armed school resource officers in the schools and is in the process of hiring a fourth.
“I will have one at every school by the end of the year,” Mayfield said
He said no teachers asked him about becoming security team members, but several staff members are already reserve deputies.
The Alabama Education Association, which represents about 104,000 educators, has not commented so far on how to best protect students and teachers in the classroom.
“There is not a consensus statewide and it varies statewide,” AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry said.
Mary Sell can be reached at mary.sell@TimesDaily.com.