Florida Senate eyes guardian training tweak

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Senate President Bill Galvano on Wednesday threw his support behind revising a state law that governs training for school guardians, after a dispute between Palm Beach County schools and a private security firm ended up in court.

Galvano said he wants the Senate to work on "clarifying" a school safety law, which outlines the training requirements for armed school personnel, including classroom teachers, under the guardian program.

The legislative tweak, which would be considered during the 2020 legislative session that begins in January, comes amid legal wrangling between the Palm Beach County School Board and a private company hired by the district to train armed guardians for charter schools.

In a lawsuit filed late last month, Boynton Beach-based Invictus Inc. alleged the school board owes the private security firm nearly $100,000, following the abrupt termination of its contract. The school board already had paid the company $67,100, according to court documents.

The school board "was required to pay Invictus $2,457.00 per trainee for the training course, plus $575 per trainee for psychological evaluation and drug testing," the company argued in a complaint filed Aug. 29.

But the school board maintains the company broke the terms of the agreement after Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw found Invictus was using unqualified instructors and passing students who failed shooting tests, according to court documents.

Bradshaw's office found that Invictus passed students who scored 80 percent on shooting tests, rather than the 85-percent passage rate required by state law. Bradshaw also found Invictus signed off on students who failed firearms tests, the school board noted.

As a result, the school board said it was forced to retrain guards that had been trained by Invictus, so they could meet requirements mandated by a school-safety measure (SB 7030), which went into effect on July 1. 

"Failure to train the school security guards in compliance with SB 7030, endangered the health, safety and/or welfare of the Palm Beach County School District's students or employees," the school board argued in a Sept. 5 response to the lawsuit.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs a state commission tasked with investigating last year's deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said the outcome of the private company's training is a "classic example" of the need for sheriffs to be responsible for training school guardians. Gualtieri, who is also a lawyer, was the first to publicly air concerns about Invictus' training.

"I think it is very important that any arguable ambiguity be removed from statute and make it extremely clear that all of this training for guardians or security personnel be done by sheriffs," Gualtieri told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.

Gualtieri said he is "optimistic" legislative leaders will follow through with the clarification.

"The intent of the law needs to be carried out and remove any possibility for anybody to misinterpret it in any way," he said.

Under the school guardian program, individuals are required to complete a 144-hour course, largely focused on firearms training. Participants also are required to learn about active-shooting scenarios and legal issues that may arise from their role as an armed guard. The state law also requires psychological and drug testing.

The law requires all public schools -- including charter schools -- to have an armed safety officer on campus when classes are in session. 

"In early July 2019, the school board anticipated that Palm Beach County charter schools would not be in full compliance with SB 7030 by the start of school due to the limited time to obtain a statutorily compliant safe school officer" by the time the new school year began last month, the school board's lawyers wrote in the response to the lawsuit.

The inability to meet the deadline prompted the school board to turn to Invictus.

 Galvano said he is aware of the lawsuit and the concerns Gaultieri raised about the state law being misinterpreted again.

"I am aware … and would like the Senate to work on clarifying the statute," Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a text message Wednesday.