Marion County Sheriff’s Office offers takeover of school security; district seeks community input

District resident asked to complete survey

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MARION COUNTY, Fla. – Marion County School Board members are calling on the community for input after a proposal from the sheriff’s office to take over school security.

“I want the community to become aware of it, to read it for themselves, to ask the tough questions,” said Eric Cummings, who is the chair of Marion County’s School Board.

Cummings said he wants parents in Marion County schools to take time and complete a survey on the district’s website.

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The Marion County Sheriff’s Office sent a proposal to take over the SAFE Schools program for the district. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the program into law this past June.

Statewide, school districts utilize a mixture of school resource officers and guardians, or set up their own police departments.

“It’s a mandate from the state to keep our schools safe,” Cummings said.

The county currently has six security specialists under safe schools, all with past law enforcement backgrounds.

The 14-page proposal from the sheriff’s office is set to do two major things:

  • Transfer all responsibilities for safe schools to the sheriff’s office.
  • Establish and hire school safety specialists with all necessary training and certifications from the sheriff’s department.

If approved, the proposal would cost the district $37,562.72 per month.

It’s one of the reasons why board members are torn.

“No entity should never give away just total authority, the way the system is it’s about checks and balances,” Cummings said.

A former school board member before leaving office this week said this proposal would streamline responses to schools.

“You have a need for security and chain of command is critical to kind of a deterrent force, you want to stop something you better have a short reliable stout chain of command,” Don Browning said.

Cummings said he sees issues with the proposal.

“I don’t see it yet, I’ve looked for the cost savings. It’s not one. I can see this as a way to future profile kids,” he said.

News 6 has reached out to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office several times by phone and email but has not heard back.

The survey will be active until Dec. 2 after that the board will look at the results and host a workshop on Dec. 15 where they may vote.

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About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.