STANLY COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - The Stanly County School Board recently unanimously passed a measure that would allow the Stanly County Sheriff to use armed volunteers to help protect students.
A pilot program will start in April at four elementary schools. North Carolina legislators passed a law that gave school districts authority to use armed volunteers. Stanly County leaders say with fatal school shootings and threats that are happening these days, they thought it was time to enact that law.
"We've sat back long enough letting the bad guys dictate how we go, how we act, how we even go to school or to work," Sheriff George Burris said. "It's time for us to take control."
Burris says he is looking for 12 armed volunteers. Currently, the county has eight school resource officers to protect Stanly County's 21 schools. The armed volunteers coming on board mean the county will soon have 20 officers protecting the roughly 8,300 students.
"They will have power of arrest while they are on that campus," the Sheriff said. "So if anything happens, they have the authority under the sheriff to take care of the law and apprehend somebody or engage to protect our kids, whatever means necessary."
The sheriff says the volunteers will go through extensive training and a thorough background check, but some people are still worried.
"I do want them protected," Aquadale Elementary School grandparent Sandra Ledbetter said, "But I am just afraid of who we are bringing in."
Ledbetter understands volunteers will go through background checks, but she argues some things can be missed and the background check may not prove the volunteer is OK to be around kids.
"We have to be prayerful and vigilant of who we let in our schools to volunteer and help with our children because we don't know. We don't know what a person goes through on a daily basis," Ledbetter said.
Stanly County Superintendent Dr. Jeff James understands the concern and says the district will do its due diligence to make sure using armed volunteers will be a success.
"We will monitor the program, stay on top of it, get feedback from teachers, students, and principals to ensure that is best-fitted at those schools," the superintendent said.
The superintendent says he is comfortable with having armed officers protecting students. He believes this is the right thing to do.
"Unfortunately the time has come where we have to protect even our elementary schools by putting boots on the ground," James said.
The Sheriff says the volunteers will be from the community. They will be either former police officers or ex-military. He says he will make sure elementary school administrators, staff, and students are comfortable having the armed volunteers on their campus.
The Sheriff wants the armed volunteers to do more than just serve as security.
"Them some wonderful times to read to them, to mentor them and give them a good base set before they get to teenage years," the Sheriff said.
NC law states that if the armed volunteers have to engage and something goes wrong - there shall be no liability on the part of and no cause of action shall arise against a volunteer school safety resource officer when performing their duties.
The pilot program will start soon so the district can determine if any adjustments need to be made. The goal is to have all the armed volunteers all in place by next school year.