The chairman of the state’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission is making some claims about local school districts that one state senator calls “disturbing” if they are true.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the commission, testified before the Senate and House Education committees on Tuesday and accused school districts of dragging their feet and showing “no sense of urgency” in implementing the school safety law enacted last year after the school shooting in Parkland.
“I do not agree that there has been a lack of urgency,” Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, insisted Wednesday.
“I think districts have spent a lot of time, energy and effort, communicating with their communities to see what works best for their communities to ensure the safety of students and staff,” Messina added. Every district recognizes this as a top priority and wants to do everything in their power to protect and keep safe both staff and students.”
Gualtieri also accused some districts of using deceptive means to circumvent the intent of the law, which requires an armed guard at every school.
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who also serves as the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, says Gualtieri made some serious charges about local school officials during Tuesday’s committee meetings that he wants to explore.
“Some of his comments were that school superintendents, districts were playing games, that they were intellectually dishonest,” Montford said Wednesday. “Those are really serious accusations. I am anxious to meet with the sheriff and members of the (commission) about where they get this data from.”
The law created the commission Gaultieri chairs. Its purpose is to look for ways to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Earlier this month, the commission sent recommendations to the governor and Legislature that included a call for school districts to ensure the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian program is being fully implemented. The program, named for a coach who died trying to stop the massacre in Parkland, allows districts to train school employees who aren’t primarily classroom teachers to undergo training and carry guns.
The Legislature left it up to local school districts to decide whether to opt in to the guardian program. A position supported by the school districts.
“Our official position was local control,” said Messina. “That those districts who thought it was a good option for them locally should have the right to do it and those that did not think it was the best decision for them locally, ought not be required to do it.”
Gualtieri said only two districts so far have armed existing school staff.
He accuses other districts of using unique ways to skirt the requirement that an armed guard be posted on every school campus. He claims 23 districts have hired what are essentially security guards who cost less than sworn law enforcement officers. Others, he says, assign one school resource officer to cover multiple school campuses.
“There’s required to be a safe school officer, a good guy with a gun, on every campus,” Gualtieri said. He suggests the state issue fines to school districts that are not in compliance with the law.
Montford says he hasn’t heard of anything — as either a senator or CEO of the superintendents association — that would suggest school districts are dragging their feet or using deceptive means to get around the intent of the law. But, he wants to know more.
“When a statement is made that they were playing games and were intellectually dishonest, again, those aren’t just serious comments but also accusations and charges,”Montford said. “It would even get to the root of are they (local school officials) doing their jobs that they were elected to do as constitutional officers. Again these are serious accusations.”
Montford has requested more information and a meeting with Sheriff Gualtieri and members of the school safety commission to learn more concerning their claims about how local school districts are implementing the school safety law and whether local school officials are violating that law.