Brevard County School Board reviewing other options before arming teachers

Vote on new security plan scheduled Tuesday

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Facing pushback from parents and employees, the Brevard County School Board appears to be rethinking a controversial program to arm school staff.

Following months of community debate, the school board is set to make a final decision on Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey's Sheriff-Trained Onsite Marshal Program, or S.T.O.M.P., on Tuesday night. S.T.O.M.P. would train school employees who volunteer for the program and arm them with guns to use in responding to an active shooter situation.

At one point, the school board seemed poised to adopt the program, with three of the five board members telling News 6 partner Florida Today they believe S.T.O.M.P. is imperative to school security and will keep children safe. Community feedback at recent town halls and results of a school district survey, however, show the county is deeply divided over whether to implement the program, and the school board is now exploring other options.

All of the options aim to address gaps at schools that don't have a school resource officer. A new law passed in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in which 17 people were killed, requires either an SRO, an armed school employee or a private security guard in place on every campus by the start of the upcoming school year. The Brevard Public Schools district has already said it cannot afford an SRO at every school, and local police agencies don't have the manpower to fill the positions.

Ivey has recommended the school board hold off on S.T.O.M.P. and focus on getting SROs in every school.

People who showed up at a town hall meeting Monday night seemed to be split down the middle in the debate on whether to arm school employees. Some said they believe guns will cause more problems.

"We don't think it's a good idea, throwing more weapons into the schools," Kris O'Keefe said.

"I think it's going to cause more harm (to) innocent children, and bystanders will get hurt," Jeanie Huppert said.

Mark Mullins, chief operating officer for the district, said that, after talks with local police departments,the district would likely have about 28 SRO spots to fill across the district's 88 schools. At a recent workshop, district staff laid out the following options to fill the 28 remaining SRO slots:

— Contract with a professional security service that would provide armed personnel to the district. District staff said this option would mean less liability for the district, and there are four providers in the state the district could choose from. The estimated cost is between $1 million and $1.2 million.

— Hire full-time campus monitors, a position that already exists but, going forward,   would be an armed employee. Some of Brevard's high schools already employ campus monitors, who are described as the "eyes and ears" of the campus. Current monitors would not be required to carry guns, but the school district discussed rewriting the job description so that future hires could carry firearms. Monitors would receive $30,748 in salary and benefits. The estimated cost is $860,000.

— Hire a a full-time school safety director and full-time school safety and security specialists, who would undergo the same training proposed under S.T.O.M.P. These specialists would be required to have a concealed carry permit and go through Ivey's S.T.O.M.P. training to become special deputies so they can carry guns on campus. Specialists would receive $40,431 in salary and benefits. The estimated cost is $1.2 million.

School Board Vice Chair Tina Descovich said the board will vote Tuesday on the third option, as well as two separate agenda items for S.T.O.M.P. and other layers of Ivey's security plan. The other layers include developing active shooter drills and training for students and staff, continuing a program at the district's alternative learning centers, promoting an anonymous tip line, continuing to upgrade school facilities and working to get an SRO in every school.

"I think it's fantastic," Descovich said of the new option to hire school safety and security specialists. Descovich has been one of the more vocal supporters of S.T.O.M.P. "Many people that had concerns about the S.T.O.M.P. program that I've talked to have had an open mind to school safety and security specialists."

The option to hire school safety and security specialists resembles a program the Polk County School Board approved last month, called the School Safety Guardian Program. Coincidentally, Ivey's S.T.O.M.P. proposal was also inspired by a program that originated in Polk County — Sheriff Grady Judd's Sentinel Program.

Unlike personnel armed and trained under Ivey's S.T.O.M.P. proposal, school safety and security specialists would not be anonymous, and acting as a security specialist would be their sole responsibility. The specialists would undergo the 176 hours of training with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office outlined in Ivey's S.T.O.M.P. proposal, as well as background checks, drug tests, psychological screenings and interviews.

Superintendent Desmond Blackburn led the discussion Monday night, during which the crowed raised green squares in agreement and red squares in disagreement.

"Bottom line is -- as superintendent, as parent, as educator -- we're armed with what we're having to wrestle with right now and we have to do something," Blackburn said.

Brevard County School Board members will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at 2700 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, in Viera, to vote on school safety options.

Continue reading the full story on Floridatoday.com.