Gadsden County Schools is among the latest districts to sign up for the state’s Guardian Program. That brings the number of districts planning to have armed personnel to 33. However, Gadsden won’t be arming classroom teachers as allowed under a new state law.
Gadsden Sheriff’s Department Captain Bobby Collins says the school district is doing something else.
“Right now most of the applicants are prior law enforcement, prior military or current security guards employed by security companies,' he says. "At this point, we have 20 applicants who will be going though the Guardian Program in July.”
Gadsden Superintendent Roger Milton has said he won't arm classroom teachers, something allowed under current state law. Collins says the decision to participate in the program was a financial one. The legislature set aside money for the Guardian Program.
“The state has provided the funding, so why not maximize it?" He says. "It’s very expensive to hire school resource deputies, then you have to train them. They have to go through a normal field training officer program which is about 12 weeks where they ride with another deputy. So that’s another three months that you don’t get to use that individual.”
Guardian’s on the other hand, can be trained faster.
The program is named for Aaron Feis, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Coach who protected students during the 2018 Valentine’s Day Shooting at the cost of his own life. The failures of law enforcement at the time have been front and center in the debate over whether to arm school personnel.
The program is voluntary for participants. Critics have argued it’s dangerous to arm school personnel and worry about unintended consequences. But Gadsden’s Collins says he doesn’t see any drawbacks. He’s overseeing Gadsden’s implementation of the program.
“I take ownership of that. We’re not going to give anyone Guardianship. They’re going to earn it. We’re not going to put anyone out there or certify anyone we don’t think has met the mandate of being a guardian.”
Gadsden will be training its Guardians between July 8th -26th. And it’s planning a ceremony to swear-in its first class on the 26th. The addition of Gadsden brings the number of counties that have approved the Guardian Program to 33 -- nearly half the school districts in the state. The Florida Department of Education also announced St. Johns and Citrus have signed up. It’s anticipating another 15 counties to soon follow, which would mean a majority of the state's school district's could have some form of the program in place.