ORLANDO, Fla. – As school districts consider how to reopen with coronavirus cases rising, the law enforcement officers who protect those schools are preparing, too.
The Florida Association of School Resource Officers is moving ahead with its annual conference.
For some officers, the training is required, but critics question if it’s safe in the current climate.
Michael Marden is the president of FASRO and said the Rosen Centre Hotel is doing all it can to make sure the conference is as safe as possible.
"We've been back and forth obviously about whether or not we were going to go with the conference," Marden said.
Marden said this year’s conference will have most of the usual seminars and courses, but he said attendees will see a difference.
“The hotel has put so many things in place,” Marden said. “Hand sanitizer is everywhere, obviously there’s hand-washing stations. They are cleaning constantly.”
Marden said all of the sessions will be socially distanced and all officers will be required to wear face coverings the entire time.
Hotel staff will be sanitizing rooms after each session, according to Marden.
There will be temperature checks for attendees and no after-hours events, Marden said.
But that hasn't stopped the organization from getting calls from law enforcement agencies voicing concerns for their employees.
“We have had several people cancel and tell us this employee has an underlying condition and that’s fine,” Marden said. “Everybody was refunded their money if they were already paid.”
Last year’s attendance was over 800 officers, but this year it’s less than 500, which Marden attributes to the coronavirus pandemic.
There are no attendees from out of state or from South Florida, where coronavirus cases are surging, though they were not barred from the conference.
“We didn’t have to do that,” Marden said.
Conti Moore is a family law attorney and said her office has been inundated with parents wanting to know their rights about sending their kids to school -- or choosing not to -- during a pandemic.
“When the numbers are rising here in Florida and in Central Florida and Orlando, it doesn’t make sense to have the SROs go to a conference,” Moore said.
Moore said she’s not comfortable with the idea of officers attending a large gathering weeks before school resumes.
“I’m concerned about those officers going to the conference or the training and then spreading it to students and staff members at our schools,” Moore said. “This is not the time to be reckless.”
However, Marden believes there is an appropriate amount of time between the conference and the start of the fall semester.
“First of all, I don’t know of any districts that are opening before at least Aug. 10,” Marden said. ”So we have at least 14 days after the conference before they would even be in contact or on a campus anyway.”
Marden also said this year, they have many first-time SROs and the training is required.
News 6 asked if the conference could be done virtually.
Part of the officers’ training is about how to handle horrific experiences like school shootings.
According to Marden, the instructors don’t sugar coat the training because officers need to know exactly what to expect.
Marden said holding the training virtually could create the possibility for information to be shared with people who shouldn’t be seeing it.
“I hope that we don’t get looked at as though we’re policing the police, but were going to this year. Were gonna make sure they are staying safe and taking care of each other,” Marden said.
The conference starts Monday and runs through Friday.