Florida school hires armed veterans

By Kayla Epstein | Washington Post

In the era after the Parkland shootings, Florida law now requires every school to have a “school security guard” to protect students from potential attacks. A school in Manatee County implemented a particularly aggressive solution.

The Manatee School for the Arts has hired two veterans to serve as “guardians” at the school, each equipped with a semi-automatic rifle, handgun and plate carrier to protect the body from fire.

The school’s decision to hire and arm school security officers has made national headlines as the anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School approaches. Billions of dollars are being spent on school safety across the country, and lawmakers are considering different policies to curb school shootings.

The Manatee School for the Arts’ decision still seemed unusual to some experts.

“I have to be honest, I’ve never conducted a (school) assessment where this level of deterrence and defense was needed,” said Errol Suthers of the University of Southern California, a former homeland security official. of California specializing in local terrorism research. and school safety.

Suthers has done safety assessments for schools in the past, but he noted that this was an atypical remedy. “I teach in Israel, I teach in France, places where terrorism is a problem. I haven’t seen this anywhere, not in an academic and educational environment.

Principal Bill Jones argued that his school’s model was needed.

One of the guards started in the fall, while another was expected to join this month, Jones said. He said the students had adapted to the new security presence – and one girl had thanked the first tutor for protecting them.

“If someone comes in here and starts shooting, it’s war. It’s a mess,” he said. He wanted guards who would know what to do if they came under fire, and veterans would have that experience.

Jones said he consulted with the school board, teachers and parents before moving forward with the plan.

“We’re not crazy about guns,” Jones said. While he welcomed criticism and debate over gun policy, he said his main concern was the safety of his students. “The goal is, ultimately, if we have to respond to a threat that comes to campus, I want to win. I don’t want there to be a possibility that we won’t win, because we’re talking about people’s lives, I can’t take risks.

Prior to the Parkland shootings and subsequent Florida law, the school had a perimeter fence and faculty members helped keep an eye out for trouble. In addition to tutors, Jones said the school would have 450 security cameras, enhanced mental health services and training for teachers who might encounter struggling or at-risk students.

A Washington Post analysis counted two school shootings in Florida in 2018, including Parkland, and a total of 17 school shootings since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

Activists on both sides of the gun debate are arguing over whether guns should be allowed in schools. The National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump have called for teachers to be armed; On Tuesday, the Florida Legislature considered a bill that would allow teachers to carry guns to school if they undergo training. Gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety has spoken out against laws that would allow guns in schools, and many gun control activists reject such measures.

If officers are required to carry guns in schools, some believe they should be law enforcement.

“The concept of the gatekeeper, the civilian in there, I understand,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, “and I understand why they might go so far, being in that part of state, where they had one of the most gruesome shootings ever. It doesn’t surprise me. But that’s not necessarily what we recommend. We’d rather see law enforcement officers sworn, well trained, tactically sound, in these situations.

MSA Guardians are different from School Resource Officers, or SROs, who are members of law enforcement who protect schools and are preferred by the Canady organization to protect schools. In addition to providing physical protection, they also practice community policing and build relationships with students.

“At the same time, we’re not in a position to throw stones at someone who does it in a different way,” he said.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said he was involved in training wardens. They received “several weeks of pretty much standard law enforcement training,” spokesman Randy Warren said, though he was “not as involved in what law enforcement training entails.” ‘a law enforcement assistant’. Guards also passed a written exam and received weapons training, Warren said.

“It’s not a sporting event, and I’m not looking for a fair fight,” said Jones, who hired the two tutors from an applicant pool of 600 in a bid to stop a school shooting. if it happened. “You hope against hope that it never happens, but every school that’s ever had a shooting said the same thing.”

What if the attacker is a student, or a former student, as was the case at Parkland?

“Bottom line,” Jones said, “if they pose as a threat, if they’re confronted, if they don’t back down, or if they act aggressively . . . if they were to shoot, I don’t think those guys would hesitate to shoot.