How the armed guardian program is working in Volusia County

Leaders say they've seen success

By Loren Korn - Reporter

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - It's now more than six months into the school year with armed guardians protecting staff and students.

News 6 spoke with officials from the Volusia County school district to find out how the program is working and if there's anything the district would like to change in the future.

There isn't any doubt that Volusia County Schools district officials stand behind their armed guardians.

"They are an intricate part of our security program but they're also there to build relationships, and a peace of mind for our parents and our communities because they are there for a purpose," said Greg Akin, chief operating officer for Volusia County Schools.

Forty-seven armed guardians protect the elementary and charter schools by patrolling the halls and securing the campuses. Lead guardian Chico Mandizha, who currently works at Indian River Elementary School, said he's seen a difference in the number of school threats and the amount of inappropriate behavior.

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"Ultimately, in the long run, it has gone down. You can see where students would utilize the Fortify (Florida app) system. They would utilize 'see something, say something.' They would talk to counselors, talk to the guardian and nip a lot of this in the bud immediately," Mandizha said.

The school district said the armed guardians are doing such a good job, Sheriff Mike Chitwood asked for a pilot program to replace officers with school guardians in three middle schools and an alternative learning site, to help with deputy shortages.

"Just like we would at an elementary school, to do the same duties we're currently doing right now at those schools to maintain the security of those campuses," Akin said.

Akin said that, along with the armed guardians, the Florida Department of Education recently recommended that the district implement a hardened corner for every teacher in every school.

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"So, if an assailant actually shot through that glass window and they tried to look in, is there an area in your classroom or in your office area that would not be visible from that door/window area," he said.

Students at Indian River Elementary look for their mascot, a red manatee, when they practice a code two red lockdown. It's another added form of security to keep children safe as the trained guardians move to the forefront.

"I think for us to be in place to mitigate that incident from moving further until law enforcement can get here or with medical real-time talk with dispatch as to what's happening, is a huge, huge difference," Mandizha said.

The district said that security plans and programs are always changing, and that staff members review and implement the best practices. But, Akin said, they could always use more meetings, communication and education.

"Our No. 1 focus besides education is safety. We want every child that arrives on one of our campuses to go home safely that afternoon," he said.

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