Marion school board rejects sheriff’s office plan to take over school safety

Discussions will continue into January

Marion County School District

OCALA, Fla. – The Marion County School board has rejected the sheriff’s office proposal “as-is” after a work session with public comment but is set to continue discussions about the SAFE Schools program.

“There are many pieces of safety that we need to address, we are... it’s not that we aren’t addressing them, but I think there is opportunities to continue to improve,” said Dr. Diane Gullett, who is Marion County’s superintendent.

[TRENDING: Overboard cruise ship passenger found dead off Florida | ‘Brutal rapist’ arrested in Orange County after woman found mutilated, deputies say | Become a News 6 Insider]

Dr. Gullett is calling on the school board for a sense of urgency after it rejected the proposal from the sheriff’s office to take over the SAFE Schools program.

“And as Vice-Chair Thrower said so eloquently, this is an opener,” said Marion County School Board Chair Allison Campbell.

Campbell explained the proposal from the sheriff’s office “as-is” directly goes against the newly adopted school board policy number 8405 adopted in September of this year.

“At this juncture as Reverend Cummings said, we have a proposal before us and the proposal alters what this policy currently says, if we were to accept the policy… if we were to accept the proposal as written, it would be contrary to the policy we already have in place,” Campbell said.

This past June Governor Ron DeSantis signed the SAFE Schools program into law.

Statewide, it mandates school districts to utilize a mixture of school resource officers, guardians or set up their own police department.

The county currently has six security specialists.

The now-rejected proposal would have the sheriff’s office take over those responsibilities.

During the work session public comment was heard.

“We can kind of see the divide in the room and we honestly by my tracking here have had a very even divide,” Campbell said.

The public comment comes after around 6,700 people, in an online survey, shared their thoughts on the proposal.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods was in attendance listening to every comment and after the last speaker, he took to the stand himself, addressing the board.

“I am making this proposal as a means of preparing for Marion County’s future,” said Sheriff Woods as he called for more time to address concerns.

He did make it clear he wouldn’t fire the county’s six security specialists who run the SAFE Schools program

“We want to make sure our communication is ready before there is an emergency, or something slips through the cracks. That is the purpose of this proposal,” Woods said.

The conversation is set to continue in January, where the superintendent is set to put together a task force that will incorporate all voices of the community, including students.

Then a preliminary plan may be presented as the county and sheriff’s office continue together on this topic.

Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily:

About the Author:

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