Trained law enforcement officers or “guardians” – the controversy continues

With the new school year now in session, educators, families, lawmakers, various advocacy groups and the governor are still grappling with campus security in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings  – specifically about who should be patrolling campuses.

A broad coalition today called on a key legislative commission to provide $58-million to public schools to hire trained law enforcement officers, usually referred to as school resource officers. That $58-million comes from unused funds from a controversial “guardian” program the Legislature passed last spring. That law allows certain school staff to carry firearms on campuses.

The coalition says trained law enforcement personnel are the better choice for school security, and that state money is better spent making that happen.

“School Resource Officers (SROs) are trained law enforcement. They are the ones best equipped to handle violence on campus — not school staff or private security guards,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “We encourage the Legislative Budget Commission to reallocate the funds necessary for hiring more SROs for our schools.”

The Florida PTA, Florida Education Association and the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence joined in the request. However, the specific issue – which would involve a budget amendment at the Florida Department of Education — is not listed on the commission’s agenda for Friday, said State Senate spokeswoman Katherine Betta.

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott asked the commission to send the $58-million to schools, but Senate Republican President Designate Bill Galvano argued against it.

In a Sept. 7 letter to Scott, Galvano said he couldn’t support using the money that had been designated for the guardian program.

“Florida is currently less than a month into the 2018-19 school year. For the Guardian Program to truly be vetted and ultimately embraced, I believe the program should maintain its own funding rather than having its funds comingled with other funds available for school  safety,” Galvano said.

He added: “The Senate will continue to monitor the Department of Education’s implementation of this important legislation. In addition, I remain open to reviewing future amendments on this matter, should they be proposed, in the coming months.”

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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