BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. – A group of Bradford County School District employees who volunteered to be armed guardians on school campuses met for the first time on Tuesday.
It’s the first public school district in the Northeast Florida area to begin teaching the Guardian Program, which was approved by the state after the Parkland high school shooting that left 17 dead.
Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said it's another line of defense and an important one. He said he's not going to sit back and leave students in danger.
During the first Guardian Program meeting Tuesday, the school district and the Bradford County Sheriff's Office worked to identify candidates for the program. There were 16 guardian candidates in the meeting. Those men and women are hoping to protect children in Bradford County and be the first line of defense in the worst-case scenario.
It's uncharted territory, but Bradford County deputies were eager to get started. Deputies gathered together the volunteers as they began to teach them how to protect local schools and students.
"It's kind of undercover," Smith said. "We are going to start out with the pretense that most people are not going to know who they are."
Only News4Jax was inside the first meeting, which Smith described as an important step in preventing active shooters.
"If you come on our campus, I want you to expect the worst is going to happen to you if you come with the intent of creating any harm in Bradford County, one of our schools," the sheriff warned. "I want you to know right off the bat, when you start, that is the likelihood of you dying is real."
There are nine public schools in Bradford County. By next school year, there will be one deputy assigned to each campus, which will cost $500,000. The hope is to give that deputy backup through the Guardian Program.
"They are basically there for safety. They are not there for anything else. They are not there to be the police officer," Smith said. "Our guardian there is the last line of defense if we have an active shooter come onto one of our school campuses."
The guardians, who work at schools but are not teachers, will not be paid extra but will get a firearm from the Sheriff's Office and 144 hours of initial training.
The state vows to pay $500 to train and equip each recruit. They’ll go through full background checks, mental health evaluations and more.
The sheriff said the guardians will "absolutely" be trained to shoot to kill.
"I want to do everything I can to protect the kids in this community," Smith said.
Additionally, the sheriff said, all schools will have monthly active shooter training so everyone, not just the guards, knows what to do in an emergency.
Once the candidates are selected, News4Jax will take you inside the training process.