Flagler County to double number of school resource officers

Sheriff, school superintendent announce joint plan to increase security

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Allyson Henning - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

PALM COAST, Fla. - In the wake of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month and 21 threats to Flagler County schools since that massacre, the county will be ramping up from six sheriff's deputies assigned to the district's nine schools to 13 deputies to work as full-time school resource officers.

Officials said this will allow for one deputy assigned to each elementary and middle school, two to each high school and one supervisor to float between campuses. Staly said he is willing to assign deputies to patrol private school campuses as well.

Flagler County Schools Superintendent James Tager joined Staly on Thursday morning at Buddy Taylor Middle School to announce the additional deputies and a number of other changes were being implemented to protect students from active shooters.

Funding from a massive school safety bill passed this week by the Florida Legislature and expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott will provide funds for these deputies should come from the state. Until the money is available, existing deputies will be tasked with spending time at schools in the areas where they patrol.

"We train for the worst. We pray that we never need it," Staly said.

UNCUT: Flagler school superintendent, sheriff announce changes

Staly said he would proceed with caution on another of the bill's provisions: to train and deputize school staff members who volunteer to carry a gun. He would support training of retired law enforcement and military volunteers to carry guns, but only on the perimeter of the schools, not inside the buildings.

In addition to more deputies, the schools will focus more on their students' mental health needs. The district has eight school psychologists, but hopes to add more.

Other changes include active shooter drills for staff and students at all schools, done in age-appropriate fashion for younger students

Teachers and staff are now expected to keep classroom doors locked during the day, The school district will also conduct vulnerability studies of all county schools with the help of the Department of Homeland Security. They will look at fencing, locks, windows, window coverings and building access.

All employees and students will be put through active shooter training. Age-appropriate for elementary and middle school students. 

At the suggestion of students, the district is developing "See something, say something" curriculum for both middle and high schools and everyone is encouraged to report any suspicious behavior to Crime Stoppers at 888-277-8477 or tips@flaglersheriff.com. Tipsters can remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000.

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People who make school threats will be arrested

Authorities have been contending with a spike in school threats. Hoaxes targeting schools in Northeast Florida -- including schools in Clay, Duval, Flagler and Putnam counties -- in recent weeks resulted in six arrests.

Those cases represent just a few of the more than 800 school threats reported nationwide since Feb. 15, according to the Educator's School Safety Network. That's roughly 73 threats a day, far above the typical average of 10 threats a day.

Flager County has responded to 21 threats to schools in the three weeks since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, and two students have been arrested and more arrests are anticipated.

A Matanzas High School student was arrested Tuesday, accused of making a threat to "shoot up" Bunnell Elementary after doing poorly on a math assignment.

The school was placed on lockdown about 3 p.m. after the classmate reported a confrontation with the student, Bunnell police said. The classmate said he was on the playground when the student, who was riding by on a bike, stopped and pointed a handgun at him.

Police tracked down the student, who did not have a gun on him at the time. The student was arrested based on the information provided by witnesses. He was booked into the Flagler County jail on a charge of aggravated assault.

Staly wants everyone to know that will apply to anyone they catch who made a threat.

"We will arrest you under felony charges," Staly said. "Don’t screw up your life because you’re upset or mad about something and make a stupid threatening comment like, 'I’m going to shoot or blow up the school,' because we will arrest you."

Two people have also been referred to Florida Department of Law Enforcement in recent weeks to see if they should be considered a threat to the public.

"I'd rather my deputies check out hundreds of false alarms (than have one school shooting)," Staly said. 

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