On February 14th, Nikolas Cruz shot 34 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17.
Less than a month later, Governor Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Part of the new legislation requires each district school board and school district superintendent work with law enforcement agencies to assign at least one “safe-school officer” at every school facility in Florida.
In conjunction with this requirement, the Act permits county sheriffs to establish a Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School employee who lost his life protecting students during the shooting. The Guardian Program – which is completely voluntary for a sheriff to establish and for a school district to participate in – involves hiring armed “guardians,” who have completed a minimum 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training, passed a psychological evaluation and drug tests, and completed certified diversity training, to protect school campuses from armed assailants.
The Pinellas County School Board elected to participate in the Guardian Program, hiring almost 90 guardians to complete an extensive training program developed by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Training Division.
The guardians began the intensive five-week, 176-hour training program Monday, July 2nd, with two days of classroom instruction about diversity and legal issues like the Fourth Amendment and concealed-carry laws.
The following weeks entailed a combination of basic firearms instruction, CPR/TECC certification, defensive tactics education, and scenario-based drills designed to prepare trainees to respond to active assailant incidents on school premises.
“We have experience levels from retired law enforcement officers and retired military to somebody who was a school bus driver that’s never done law enforcement or any type of firearms training before,” said PCSO Training Division Lieutenant Greg Danzig during the second week of the training program. “So this is a unique experience for us, but so far, the guardians are doing quite well.”
On Friday, August 3rd, 81 men and women received certificates officially certifying them as Pinellas County Schools guardians.
Like law-enforcement-certified school resource officers, guardians are on campus full time to keep students, teachers, and faculty safe. However, there are distinct differences in their duties and limitations. While guardians are armed with a handgun, body armor, and a flashlight, they do not have arrest powers or the authority to detain, interrogate, and/or question subjects. Likewise, guardians do not have patrol vehicles, handcuffs, police radios, or secondary weaponry like school resource officers do.
With the start of the 2018-2019 school year, guardians have taken their posts at elementary and charter schools across the county. The PCSO will continue to provide training in various capacities to guardians throughout the year.
"Overall, the training program went really well," Lieutenant Danzig said. "Our trainers greatly enjoyed the experience. Being a trainer means taking on new challenges, and this was a large one."
While the program is off to a great start, Pinellas County Schools must employ a total of 110 guardians to cover every school with built-in relief. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a guardian, contact the Pinellas County School Board at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-588-6300.
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