DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A new group of Volusia County school guardians begins training Monday as the pilot program is expanded into some middle schools.
Since the beginning of the school year, 47 guardians have been assigned to elementary schools.
Chief Operating Officer Greg Akin said the program has been so successful that the school board voted to replace deputies at four middle schools with the armed security officers.
"Just like we would at an elementary school, they would do the same duties they currently do right now at those schools to maintain the security of those campuses," Akin said.
According to the school district, guardians will replace deputies at Creekside, Silver Sands and New Smyrna Beach middle schools, along with Highbanks Learning Center.
Guardian trainee Joe Hodges, a retired Miami-Dade police officer, said he entered the program because of his wife and her grandchildren.
"They need protection. They need safety," Hodges said. "This is a good program, I think. It's halfway between a deputy and a civilian. Hopefully, the people here have more training and more expertise and are able to resolve situations."
The guardian program was implemented in Volusia County to help keep children safe in schools and is part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
While the primary role of the guards is to respond in the case of an active shooter, school leaders said they have seen other safety benefits.
"I think for us to be in place to mitigate that incident from moving further, until law enforcement can get here or with medical and real-time talk with dispatch as to what's happening is a huge difference," guardian Chico Mendiza said.
Guardian applicants must have a background in military or law enforcement and complete 132 hours of training before they're allowed in schools.
"You're asking the people here that their only job is to put themselves in harm's way," said Randy Post, senior range master with VCSO. "It takes a special person to go ahead and sign up and say, 'This is what I want to do.' We train them the same way we train our deputies, so if that happens, and there's a law enforcement unit responding, they can go ahead and fall in with them and they know the same tactics."
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The program is scheduled to be evaluated at the end of the school year.