Private company under fire for school guardian training

A private security company that was paid thousands of dollars to train school “guardians” in Palm Beach County signed off on armed school security that did not meet statutory training requirements, according to the chairman of the state’s school safety panel.

In a memo sent Wednesday to members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the Boynton Beach-based company, Invictus, failed to train “guardians” for the required 144 hours mandated in state law.

Following a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, state lawmakers created the school guardian program, which allows specially trained school personnel --- including classroom teachers --- to have guns on school grounds to protect students in case of an active shooter situation.

Gualtieri, the chairman of the commission, wrote that the company “graduated” armed school security who did not receive the required 85 percent score on firearm training. Invictus also failed to include low-light firearms training, Gualtieri pointed out.

“The school district contracted with Invictus and paid about $3,000 per student for this training despite our caution, and caution of the [Department of Education], that the training is required under law to be conducted only by a sheriff,” Gualtieri, who is also a lawyer, wrote in the memo.

The sheriff also raised questions about the qualifications of Invictus’ “lead instructor,” writing that he lacks the certification required by state law and was "separated" from the Lauderhill police department last year for “violating agency/training center policy.”

As a result of the findings, Gualtieri said the school guardians trained by Invictus will be re-trained by Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw before they are allowed to be safe school officers at the charter schools where they were supposed to be stationed.

“In the meantime, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies will staff the charters to ensure the safety of children in Palm Beach County,” Gualtieri wrote. The retraining “is being re-done at an additional and duplicated expense,” and the school district will also have to pay for sheriff’s deputies at charter schools “while these security officers again attend the required training,”

Gualtieri wrote. Palm Beach County school officials have agreed to have Bradshaw’s office conduct guardian training in the future, according to Gualtieri.

“We will nonetheless proceed with our recommendation to the legislature that it make unequivocally clear that all safe school officer training be conducted only by a Florida sheriff,” Gualtieri wrote.

The commission’s request is expected to be pushed during the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January.