FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. - You may have heard talks from school districts in Florida that are considering arming teachers. Flagler County is thinking about arming not just teachers, but any of its school district employees.
That would happen through a program called the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named for an assistant football coach and security guard who died defending students in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
A Florida statute requires what’s called a "Safe School Officer" at every public school. That can be a School Resource Officer provided by a local law enforcement entity. It could be a School Safety Officer commissioned by the District, or a hired School Security Guard. Or it can be a School Guardian – a regular employee of the District who goes through weapons training.
That’s why Flagler County is considering it right now, in large part because it’s cheaper. Flagler County School Board Chair Cheryl Massaro said the district is simply gauging interest.
"I’m sure the community splits on this whole concept. Lots of people would like it and lots of people would hate it, so we need to get a better feel for that too."
School Guardians are employees who go through a minimum of 144 hours of training to be available to respond to "active assailants" either in addition to their normal job duties or as their main duty. They don’t have the ability to arrest people. State funds cover the screening and training costs, and guardians get a one-time payment of $500.
This week, a survey will go out to employees at the Flagler County School District, asking simply: "Are You Interested in Becoming a School Guardian?" If you answer "No," on the survey, that’s the end of it. If you say yes, the survey goes on to ask what school and what department you work in, what your job description is, whether you have a CCW, and whether you have any law enforcement or military background.
Forty-six out of 67 Florida counties already participate in the program. Flagler County has been considering joining for about a year or so. So why push now to explore the option further?
"First of all, it’s financial. The state is offering a substantial grant to help toward training," answered Board Chair Massaro.
Former Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón says the Guardian program could cut security costs for the school by as much as two-thirds.
"Think about this: the cost of a law enforcement officer is extremely high. It’s the salaries, the training, the equipment that you must give or provide an officer at a school."
Rolón also pointed out, another problem schools may face in getting protection is that lots of law enforcement agencies are short-staffed.
"If you have the right vetting process if you provide the right training, and you provide the right oversight over individuals that are Providing security at our schools, I think there is a viable option out there."
Parents FOX 35 talked with had that same sentiment.
"I mean, it’s not a horrible idea if it’s well-trained and well-understood and well-explained for the teachers on how to properly defend themselves and the kids, I’m not opposed to it," said Rey Martinez, whose child is not yet old enough to be in school.
Martinez pointed out the issue of delayed police response in Uvalde, saying that’s part of why he’d want more guns within the schools.
"Especially with all the incidents that have been going on recently, I think it would be good to have some protection for the kids."
A gun safety research group called Everytown found the 2021-2022 school year had nearly four times more school shootings than average. You can see that dramatic uptick demonstrated by the K-12 School Shooting Database. But in a statement, the National Education Association said arming teachers doesn’t prevent gun violence.
"Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards, or receiving training to become sharpshooters," the NEA continued.
The NEA says 82% of teachers – including 63% of teachers who own guns – would not want teachers carrying guns in schools. Massaro emphasized that right now, Flagler County’s School Board is only on a fact-finding mission.
"It’s just a very simple questionnaire, whether you’d be interested in participating or not. If only a few people come back and say they’d be interested in participating, that obviously takes it off the table."
Since the idea to arm teachers is so new, there isn’t much research on its effectiveness in stopping shootings. But a 2019 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found "the presence of a school resource officer was unassociated with any reduction in school shooting severity."
A U.S. Secret Service analysis of targeted school violence concluded prevention is the most important part of reducing school violence.
The Flagler County School District said it wll be sending the survey out to school employees later this week. The results of the survey will be presented to the public in a school board workshop on February 21st.