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Florida Senate bill tackles school safety concerns

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a grand jury found “systemic” school-safety failures in Florida school districts, a Senate bill was filed Thursday to address some of the panel’s concerns. The measure, proposed by the Senate Education Committee, will be heard on Tuesday.

It would make several changes to training requirements in the controversial school “guardian” program, increase oversight for districts’ school security plans and make changes to the state’s emergency drill policies.

The bill (SPB 7040) would require sheriff’s offices to “review and approve” psychological evaluations, drug-test results and background checks of school employees before they can be trained to carry guns in schools as part of the guardian program.

In a December report, the grand jury found some school employees completed the state-funded guardian training only to later be told they could not participate in the program “due to defects in their background, psychological evaluations, or due to the failure in some other aspect of the vetting” process.

“Not only does this waste taxpayer resources, it compromises the plans of school officials who believe they are making sufficient efforts toward compliance only to later find out that their intended designees are not eligible to serve,” the grand jury said.

The bill also would clarify that sheriff’s offices are the only entities that can train guardians. That would directly address an issue in which Palm Beach County schools signed a contract with a private security firm to train guardians. The security firm did not meet some training requirements in state law.

Other provisions in the bill would require the Office of Safe Schools under the Florida Department of Education to ensure districts report to the state the number of disruptive or violent incidents that happen on campus or at school events. The office would also be required to timely notify the education commissioner of any non-compliance issues.

In addition, the bill would mandate that law-enforcement officers who would be assigned to respond to emergencies at schools be involved in school emergency drills.

Under the bill, the State Board of Education would also be required to establish a policy for emergency drills. The policy would detail how many drills schools would need to do every year.