MSD panel recommends sheriffs be required to provide training for armed school personnel

by | Dec 13, 2018

Arming teachers and other school staff to stop a possible active shooter situation in a public school remained a focus of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Commission.

The commission was appointed following the the Feb. 14 mass shooting at the Parkland high school in which 17 students and staff were killed. It’s tasked with making recommendations to the Legislature by the end of the year on how the state can better prevent and react such tragedies.

The commission voted Thursday morning to recommend to the Legislature that sheriffs departments be required to train  school staff as part of the state’s guardian program, if a local school board agrees to participate in the program. . Current law says says they “may” participate in the program, but they are not required to. Some sheriff departments, like Citrus County, have opted out of program despite the decision of their local school boards to participate, mainly due to insurance liability issues.

“The insurance companies have scared the sheriffs,” said Commission Member Grady Judd, Sheriff of Polk County. “They’ve gone through a dickens of a time in Citrus County because they want the guardian program.

“What we need to say is, ‘sheriff, the law says you’re doing it,” Judd said.

The commission’s chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, suggested alternative training methods to deal with sheriffs who choose not to train teachers and school staff to participate in the guardian program.

“There’s a number of options to do this,” Gualtieri told the commission. “If there’s a will, there’s a way to get that training done. Who does it? The only thing in the requirement is that they be the right instructor with the right curriculum.”

Gualtieri suggested guardian program participants could be trained by another sheriff department that is providing training for the program, or sending participants to be trained at one of the 28 certified law enforcement training centers across Florida. The training is a month-long program.

Thursday’s discussion about the guardian program comes after the commission accepted a recommendation on Wednesday to expand the program.

The school safety law adopted by the Legislature earlier this year voted to give local school boards authority to allow certain school staff to be trained to carry a concealed weapon to counter a possible active shooter. But, the law stopped short of allowing teachers to participate in the program. The debate over allowing teachers to be armed was highly contentious and threatened passage of the law.

The commission voted 13-1 on Wednesday to recommend that qualified teachers who volunteer to carry guns on campus be allowed to do so.

“The more people we have appropriately trained and appropriately equipped after their appropriately selected the safer the kids are because we have to get there in seconds,” said Sheriff Judd told the commission on Wednesday.

Currently, state officials say 25 of Florida’s 67 school districts use some form of the program.

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