School begins, but Duval County needs dozens more safety assistants

JSO provides officers to cover elementary school vacancies until all SSAs hired

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The day after Jacksonville students returned to class for the first day of school, the Duval County School Board received an update on the hiring of school safety assistants.

Duval County School Police Department Director Micheal Edwards told board members at a workshop Tuesday morning that there are 24 school safety assistants who have been hired, trained and are currently in schools, but 81 more are still needed to put one at every elementary school.

According to Edwards, the hiring process is taking longer than expected because they're putting applicants through an exhaustive interview process.

He said about 400 people have applied to be school safety assistants, 112 of whom were disqualified for various reasons:

  • 16 applicants failed a drug survey or test.
  • 27 failed a background investigation. 
  • 15 failed a psychological examination.
  • 20 failed a polygraph exam.
  • Five were dismissed after the interview.
  • 29 were disqualified for other reasons.

Edwards said an example is two people were asked what they would do in an active shooter situation and they said they would hide. Edwards said their response was a clear sign they were not right for the job. 

VIEW: Presentation updating school safety assistant hiring process

Dr. Tracy Pierce, chief officer of marketing and public relations for Duval County Public Schools, said Duval County is one of the few school districts in Florida putting these potential employees through a polygraph test. 

"First and foremost, we want to make sure these positions are staffed with qualified people who are capable of doing the job. We want to make sure this contributes to school safety and does absolutely nothing to detract from school safety," Pierce said. "That’s why the vetting process is so rigorous."

The 24 school safety assistants already in schools were part of the July 9 training class. They began on Monday, which was the first day of school in Duval County.

The 27 who were part of the July 30 class will be in schools Sept. 4. 

Three more training classes will take place in the coming months, with more school safety assistants being places in schools in October, January and March. 

Until all 105 are hired, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is helping the district by providing officers to cover the remaining elementary school vacancies.

With JSO having to provide officers for at least several months, which it wasn't originally planning on, the question remains on whether that will cost more money. 

Florida law states the school board is required to fund the security for the schools and coordinate with the Sheriff's Office. At this time, the district said those conversations are still in the works and that it won’t be able to give a definitive answer until all of the school safety assistants are hired and it no longer needs JSO to provide officers.