YULEE, Fla. – Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper on Friday handed certificates to two men and one woman, certifying them as the county's first-ever school guardians.
The Guardian Program was approved by the Florida Legislature last year and signed into law after the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida one year ago in which 14 students and 3 school personnel were shot and killed and 17 more were injured.
After a thorough background investigation and psychological exam, Kyle Kane, Laurie Baughan and William Schmelling were hired by the Nassau County School District and began a four-week training program hosted by the Nassau County Sheriff's Office.
While guardians are armed with a handgun, body armor, and a flashlight, unlike Sheriff's Office school resource deputies or school safety officers, they do not have arrest powers.
The three received a combination of basic firearms instruction; CPR and Tactical Emergency Casualty Care certification; defensive tactics education; active-shooter scenario-based drills; and classroom instruction about diversity, legal issues and concealed carry laws, the training program was designed to prepare trainees to respond to active assailant incidents on school premises.
The state-mandated curriculum required 144 hours of instruction, but these new guardians were given 156 hours of training by Sheriff's Office deputies to make sure they are fully capable of protecting our schools.
After one more week of training with School District Safety Specialist Glenn Virden, who was hired to oversee school security in Nassau County, the guardians will take their posts at elementary schools across the county along with school safety officers, who are certified law enforcement officers already employed by the Nassau County School District.
The Sheriff's Office will continue to provide training in various capacities throughout the year.
Leeper said the sheriff’s office and school district have been working very closely together over the past year in order to make sure every county school has security on campus and this is just another step in that direction.
"The training program went really well," Leeper said in a statement. "Our trainers greatly enjoyed the experience. Being a trainer means taking on new challenges, and this was definitely a large one."
This is the beginning step and more guardians are needed.
Dr. Kathy Burns, superintendent of Nassau County schools, who attended the graduation ceremony, said her goal was to make sure the district is doing everything possible to allow students to learn and teachers to teach in a safe and secure environment.
Nassau County needs more school safety officers and school guardians to cover all 16 schools in the district. If you or someone you know is interested in one of these positions, contact the Nassau County School Board at 904-491-9900.
The Sheriff’s Office will continue to provide school resource officers at high schools and middle schools within the county as contracted by the school board.
Leeper recently attended a meeting in west Florida where all Florida sheriffs were briefed on the Stoneman Douglas shooting by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualteri, who was chairman of the committee assigned to look into the incident. This committee provided their initial 439-page report to the Legislature and governor on what happened, why it happened and what if anything can be done to prevent these types of situations from occurring in the future.
After the briefing, Leeper noted there was an obvious failure in several areas that need correcting, including mental health treatment to school security, preparedness, communication, policy, procedures and priorities, and the poor response by law enforcement officers.
Sheriffs were also able to view surveillance video camera footage that captured the shooting of students and school personnel. Leeper said it was difficult to watch, especially knowing that innocent lives were lost because of the many failures that occurred.
Leeper said a school shooting will happen again. The only questions are: Where? When? What have we done to minimize the risk of it happening at our schools?
"We are one of the areas that is lucky not to have any shootings but who is to say that we won't?" asked one concerned parent.