With the training of armed school guardians getting underway in Volusia County this week, many Central Floridians are likely wondering what exactly a school guardian is.
To answer your question in its simplest form, it's how Volusia and Polk counties are responding to the Marjory Stoneman Dougles High School Public Safety Act, or SB 7026, which requires every Florida school be equipped with an armed law enforcement officer or guardian.
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Gov. Rick Scott signed off on the legislation in March, less than a month after 17 people were killed at the South Florida high school.
After much debate that followed the February school shooting, Polk County school district officials determined that arming teachers was not the answer. Instead, the school board voted to develop its own school safety program that would involve the hiring of 85 armed school safety guardians to be placed at elementary schools throughout the county. The middle and high schools throughout the county will continue to be staffed with school resource officers.
How much training will the school guardians in Polk County undergo and just how much power will they hold?
The school safety guardians will be certified through the Polk County Sheriff’s Office guardian program, but because they will be district employees, they will not have the authority to make arrests and will not be considered law enforcement officers.
Each guardian will be required to undergo a background check, drug test, psychological exam and 144 hours of specialized training.
In a nutshell, they are trained by the Sheriff's Office but employed by the school district, meaning they are not considered to be law enforcement officers, but hope to protect students in a similar manner.
In Volusia County, school board members voted on a security model that calls for the hiring of 38 school guardians and 32 school resource officers staffed in middle and high schools.
According to Greg Akin, the chief operating officer for the school district, the guardians will be all new hires and will undergo 132 hours of extensive training by the Volusia Sheriff's Office and 12 hours of diversity training.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the guardians would be hired by the school board and vetted by the Sheriff's Office. They will be armed but won't have the power to make arrests, according to Chitwood.
The sheriff also said that during the hiring process, they planned to focus on retired law enforcement and military personnel.
Training for the first group of guardians in Volusia got underway Monday and the district must meet the mandate by Aug. 13 to have the guardians in school for the upcoming year.
Other Central Florida school districts have taken different approaches to improving school safety, but are all required to meet the criteria laid out in the legislation.
To find out more about what your county is doing in regards to school safety, visit its official school district page.
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