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A Leon School Board candidate claims security is lacking at elementary schools

Children walk down a school hallway with an adult
Ashok Sinha
The argument raised by the school board candidate is about a change in contractors providing security to the elementary schools

School safety has emerged as an issue in one of the Leon County School board races. Jeremy Rogers is challenging Laurie Lawson Cox for a seat on the school board.

Rogers claims a decision the district made to change security providers at elementary schools is making them less safe, but the district and the incumbent are pushing back.

After the 2018 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a new law was enacted mandating an armed officer or guardian in all public schools.

Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the Leon County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have enough officers to staff the 22 Leon elementary schools that would need them. So, he says they worked with a group called Integrity to create an off-duty program with officers from different agencies.

“The thought all along was to phase out this off-duty program and to go with more reliable people that are in our schools every single day," Hanna said. "Because with the off-duty program, you could have a Havana Police Department person on Monday, you could have a Fish and Wildlife officer on Tuesday, you could have a Havana PD or Wakulla sheriff’s deputy on Wednesday… It was just hit and miss.”

The school district started the off-duty program five years ago with 280 to 290 officers. But by the end of the 2024 school year, they were down to 102. By then the district had hired another security firm and added Guardians—security guards who have specialized training for schools.

Hanna said the school district wanted to create a program whereby they could have the same person in a school every day. That way the safety officer could develop relationships with the students, parents and staff. That’s important to parents like Marie-Claire Leman, who has two kids in Leon schools and says elementary schoolers, especially, need consistency in the people around them.

“They’re very little. It’s a challenge to just be away from their parents, right? And their emotions are all over the place," she said. "They have not learned how to control their emotions. They are learning to, but they’ve had a varied experience with authority in their life, and they need to attach to the people who are taking care of them. That is really important for learning to occur.”

School board candidate Jeremy Rogers says the move to end the off-duty officer program and transition to Guardians did a disservice to the officers it had employed.

“They were replaced, 102 officers from their second job, their secondary source of income, got pink slips for an out-of-town Miami company that’s less skilled, less trained and will be making less money an hour," Rogers said. "So, not only did our schools become unsafe, we just kneecapped these local law enforcement officers that were working these second jobs.”

The district continues to use sworn law enforcement officers for middle and high school. And the district’s Jimmy Williams, chief of school safety and security, says it is still hiring off-duty Leon County sheriff’s deputies and Tallahassee Police officers for extra events year-round.

In a statement, Rogers describes Dynamic Integrated Security, the firm that’s been providing security in Leon elementary schools for three years, as “a private security agency out of Miami that does not know our neighborhood schools.”

The school district says the company employs local residents. And per the contract, those employees are required to have 144 hours of training and 10 years’ experience with a military or first-responder background.

Rogers also criticized the change in who provides security on the grounds that law enforcement officers can reach 911 faster.

“They don’t have to wait and call 911. They ARE 911," he said. "And that’s what we’re taking away from these kids, like…911 in the house.”

The district says the Guardians are trained to do the same. Yet, it’s no guarantee that a situation will play out that way—such as the delayed law enforcement response to the Parkland and Uvalde school shootings.

Finally, in his statement, Rogers calls the switch an “attempt to save dollars on the backs of our children’s safety.” The change did save the school district some money. But Laurie Lawson Cox, the incumbent in the race, says it was never about money.

“To me, it was about the consistency of the Guardians versus the off-duty officers that they were having to get from surrounding counties," she said. "And just having that consistent officer at the school that the principals got to know, and the teachers and the students got to know.”

This year the Legislature passed additional school safety measures: a requirement that entry points and classroom doors in public schools be locked unless a staff member is guarding them. And a requirement that the Office of Safe Schools conduct unannounced inspections of schools to ensure they’re in complete compliance.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.