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36 counties begin new year with Guardian Programs in place

Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties hired and trained school safety assistants

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – More than half of Florida’s 67 counties are beginning the 2019 school year with a state-funded program that puts armed guardians in public schools, according to the Department of Education.

An interim statewide grand jury report found many schools were not following state law that requires an armed presence in every school, but 36 counties now participate in the Guardian Program. School guardians can either be school employees volunteering to serve as armed security in addition to other job duties or personnel hired for the specific purpose of serving as school guardians.

State funds are granted to participating sheriff’s offices to cover the screening and training costs for each guardian.

Some counties allow teachers to be armed, but the majority limit gun-carrying to non-classroom personnel. Many included in the program, including Clay, Duval and St. Johns, hired and trained school safety assistants who have no other responsibilities in the schools.

“We will not have any teachers with weapons on them on our campuses,” Gadsden County Schools Superintendent Roger Milton said.

Gadsden County guardians trained for a total of 196 hours during the summer, which is 52 hours above what is required under state law.

One of those who underwent the training was Milton, who also has a grandchild in the Gadsden school system.

“I wanted to see exactly what the training consisted of,” Milton said. "I wanted to learn more about the officers and the instructors that were providing the training.”

Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young first resisted the idea, then quickly realized it was the only way to protect every school with the resources available. 

“This gives us a level of security on campus, equipped and ready to handle a major situation,” Young said.

In Gadsden County, 31 people applied to be guardians. 

Only 13 made it past the original screening, and only eight passed the final course.

Both the sheriff and superintendent are confident guardians like Temperance Blocker will come through if they face a crisis. So is she.

"Yes, I’ve been well trained to do so. I’m physically and mentally prepared,” Blocker said.

In the end, Young said the guardians are there for one reason alone.

“To keep our children safe,” Young said.

The Florida Department of Education expects more districts will follow suit.