The Franklin County Schools may have additional armed staffers next year, but the Apalachicola Bay Charter School will not.
At their meeting Monday evening, the school board reaffirmed its support of accepting Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program funding. During the legislative session in Tallahassee this spring, lawmakers expanded the program to allow classroom teacher to take part.
In his report, Rob Wheetley, who heads up the district’s school security program, said the district plans to see if there are additional classroom teachers, in addition to the six non-classroom teachers who have so far indicated interest, that want to take part.
He said the previous bill had allowed only teachers without classroom duties to take part.
Superintendent Traci Moses, a former elementary school teacher at the ABC School, said she had “very mixed emotions” about allowing classroom teacher to take part, particularly due to the “psychological implications” such a responsibility might carry.
The school board agreed with her recommendation to survey staff to see if there is additional interest.
Those who wish to take part in the Guardian program will have to begin acquiring the extensive required hours of training next month, under the auspices of Sheriff A.J. Smith.
At a regular monthly meeting in May, the board of directors of the ABC School voted unanimously not to take part in the Guardian program.
“Well consider it in the future as needs change and we learn more about the program,” said Bud Hayes, board chairman. “We decided not to go into the program at this time. We need to do more research into this.”
He said a primary consideration was the amount of time it would take to quality teachers.” We have chosen to spend money on hardening up the school for security,” Hayes said. “We have confidence in (School Resource Officer) Stella Bryant.”
He said the school may look to retired military people to assist with school security in the future.
Several weeks ago, the school had a brief scare, when a juvenile loitering near the fifth grade playground was asked by a teacher to leave the area. The juvenile then went across the street and into the woods, and returned with what appeared to be a gun, and pointed it towards students across from the school campus.
Bryant and Apalachicola officers secured the school and found the juvenile; the gun turned out to be a pellet gun. A no trespassing order was put in place, denying future access to the campus by the juvenile.
“Our student body reacted quickly and appropriately,” wrote Principal Chimene Johnson in a letter home to parents. “They saw something and immediately notified adults. Many told even though they knew it might have already been reported. This is exactly what we want students to do to keep our campus safe.”
In a May 30 news release, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran commended Franklin County for being among 30 Florida counties to take advantage of the Guardian program.
“The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission report found that having Guardians in schools is the best way to ensure highly trained personnel are in place to respond immediately during a school shooting,” he wrote. “There is nothing more important than the safety of Florida’s students and educators, and I am proud of the sheriffs and school districts who recognized this tremendous opportunity. I hope more counties follow their lead, especially now that the Florida Legislature has expanded the Guardian program.”
He noted that Guardians receive training for school-related emergencies that is greater than the comparable training for law enforcement officers.
During the 2019 Legislative Session, the Florida Legislature invested $180 million for school resource officers and enhanced school safety measures, $50 million for school hardening grants and continued the investment in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.
Franklin’s neighboring counties Liberty and Wakulla, have not yet agreed to take part in the Guardian program, while the Gulf County school board voted earlier this month to become a part of the program.
The Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety, continue to oppose the expansion of the program to allow classroom teachers to be armed.
They note that most school districts in the state, particularly the large ones, have voted not to allow teachers to be armed, regardless of the legislation. The groups say recent polling showed that a strong majority of Florida voters oppose allowing teachers or school officials to carry guns in schools, even if they are given training. The Florida Education Association and the National Association of School Resource Officers, the largest organization of school-based law enforcement officers, also opposes arming teachers.