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What's the difference between sworn officer and school safety assistant?

Plan calls for Duval County school district to hire 103 armed safety assistants

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools must have armed security at all 103 elementary schools next school year.

News4Jax reported Tuesday that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Duval County School Police Department presented the Duval County School Board with a plan that will put the school district in line with a new Florida law requiring someone armed at every public and charter school in the state. 

RELATED: Plan calls for Duval County school district to hire 103 armed safety assistants |
VIEW: Public safety and mental health presentation given at board workshop

After the Parkland school shooting, Florida legislators hope the new law requiring armed guards at every public and charter school will help prevent another tragedy. 

To comply with the new law, Duval County Public Schools must have armed security at all 103 elementary schools. 

The school district received about $3.6 million from the state to pay for armed guards at each school. It would cost $10 million to hire 103 sworn officers, which the district can't afford.

That's why, according to the district, its best option is to hire 103 school safety assistants at a cost of about $4.4 million. 

On Wednesday, News4Jax asked Duval County School Board Chairwoman Paula Wright where the additional $800,000 still needed will come from.

"We have no ideas at this point," Wright said. "Yesterday, the superintendent shared with us a number of options that we are exploring right now. But until we decide collectively what and which programs and how much those programs may or may not be cut, this is where we are."

So what’s the difference between a sworn officer and a school safety assistant? 

  • A Jacksonville sheriff's officer works year round, is paid a salary and receives more than 1,000 hours of training before stepping foot in a police car. 
  • A Duval County school police officer also works year round, receives a salary, and receives training comparable to that of a JSO officer. It currently takes 770 hours of training to certify as a police officer. DCPS police also Florida Department 
  • A school safety assistant will work 10 months a year, also carry a firearm, earn $12-$13 an hour and undergo about 160 hours of training. 

Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville has an armed police officer on campus every day during school hours, as do all middle and high schools in Duval County. 

Students and parents told News4Jax that they support having a school safety assistant at each elementary school. 

"I think it’s a good idea just to protect our kids if anybody does come in that’s not supposed to be there," said high school parent Dawn Gay. 

Many said they are relieved to know that the youngest students will also have armed guards protecting their schools.

"I’ve got a niece and nephew. They talked about things they hear on the news and stuff. I think they get scared at their schools, so I do agree that they should be protected," said John Goodin, a junior at Sandalwood High School. 

School safety assistants would be properly trained to carry firearms. They would wear brown uniforms, different from both JSO and Duval County school police, so it would be easy to identify them. They would also patrol school perimeters, and check locks on doors and gates.