Armed 'guardian' could be added at Polk County elementary schools

Guardians would undergo background checks, specialized training

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor

POLK COUNTY, Fla. - Elementary schools in Polk County could eventually be equipped with "guardians" armed with firearms to help protect students and staff on campus.

The announcement comes in light of the passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which requires an armed law enforcement officer or guardian in each Florida school.

Districts have three options: a law enforcement officer, a school resource officer or an armed school district employee through the state's guardian program.

After speaking with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd and other Polk County Public Schools officials opted for the latter and want to begin developing the new position, which will be funded by the state Safe Schools budget allocation.

A Polk County Public Schools spokesman said the plan is subject to change because it requires school board approval before it could go into effect.

Each guardian would be appointed by the sheriff after completing a background check, drug test, psychological exam and 144 hours of specialized training. They will serve as school safety specialists with duties related to emergency drills, staff development and crime watch programs for students, according to a news release.

The guardians would not be considered police officers because they will not have the authority to make arrests.

Officials said there is no timeline for implementation of the plan. 

"This is a solution that allows collaboration between the school district and the Polk County Sheriff's Office to protect the welfare of our students and staff across the district. It not only allows for statutory requirements to be met, but adds a layer of confidence to our safety plan for our students and school community," Polk County Public Schools officials said in a news release.

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