Florida Department of Education

Florida Department of Education

So far, 30 of Florida’s 67 school district’s have opted to implement the Guardian Program in their schools, according to a report from Florida Department of Education.

In February, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that would extend the application window for district’s to sign up for the program.

Since then, five more districts signed on, and 13 others have expressed interest.

Still, not every district is on board, including those in DeSoto, Charlotte and Sarasota counties, which have not enrolled traditional schools.

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said, “The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission report found that having Guardians in schools is the best way to ensure highly trained personnel are in place to respond immediately during a school shooting.”

He added, “There is nothing more important than the safety of Florida’s students and educators... I hope more counties follow their lead, especially now that the Florida Legislature has expanded the Guardian program.”

What is it?The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program was put in place after the tragedy that occurred in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which left 17 dead. The funds would let district’s have school employees volunteer to serve as an armed guardian at the school. Volunteers must complete 132 hours of comprehensive firearm and proficiency training and pass a psychological exam. Funds are to be used explicitly for this purpose.

What about DeSoto County?Superintendent of DeSoto County Schools Adrian Cline said during a May meeting that the school board unanimously approved his recommendation that only School Resource Officers, or SROs, or other law enforcement officers are permitted to carry any weapons on school properties.

“While the Guardian Program may work in some school districts, we have complete confidence in our law enforcement agencies on our campuses,” Cline said. “We have a School Resource Officer assigned to each of our schools.”

What does Charlotte County say?Charlotte County will not be participating in the guardian program. “We’re just so against it. We’ve taken all the precautions that we can and feel are necessary,” said district spokesperson Mike Riley. “If they [teachers] are doing service, we want it to be on instructional practices, not in handling weapons.”

Riley added that there has been very little discussion about it, because no one thought it was a good idea for our district.

“That’s putting a lot of pressure on a person,” Riley said.

He explained that the district would face enormous insurance costs for covering each school, when responding law enforcement officers may not be able to clearly determine who is a bad guy with a gun from an assigned guardian. He also added that the second a teacher opens the door in a lock-down situation, they expose the children as well.

What about Sarasota County?Director of Communications for Sarasota County Schools Tracey Beeker said the district registered for the guardian program on behalf of their charter schools. Charter schools have the ability to decide how they want to manage the safety and security of their individual schools- some opted for the guardian program, while others will rely on assistance from the local sheriff’s office. Traditional public elementary, middle and high schools will be managed by the newly formed Sarasota Schools Police Department, Beeker said.

Kelsey Whealy Media Relations Specialist for Sarasota County Schools said the district was listed as participating in the guardian program, because a charter or private school selected that option.

“That’s very misleading wording to lump our whole county in that list, since our district does not support the guardian program,” she said.

Participating counties (according to the state):Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Escambia, Franklin, Gilchrist, Hendry, Hillsborough, Holmes, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Okeechobee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Suwanee, Taylor and Volusia.

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