Undercover armed ‘guardians’ already in place in local schools

Bradford County among first to train, arm school staff

As detectives continue to investigate the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, many parents are asking about safety protocols in their children’s schools.

STARKE, Fla. – As detectives continue to investigate the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, many parents are asking about safety protocols in their children’s schools.

Most Northeast Florida counties have a guardian program where some school employees are trained and armed to stop a shooter.

Leaders in Bradford County think it’s a proactive way to protect students and staff.

Bradford County school guardians prepare for the worst-case scenario: an active shooter on campus.

News4JAX showed the process in 2018 as the first group of armed educators trained with the sheriff’s office.

“It’s going fantastic,” said Undersheriff Brad Smith. “The feedback we get from the school personnel and from our people in the community is that they are very, they feel very secured and that their kids are in a very secure environment, and that they’re very thankful for what we have in place here.”

Bradford County was among the first in Florida to arm select school employees. It’s part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act after the Parkland shooting in 2018:

  • The employees train over the summer.
  • The weapons are concealed.
  • Students and parents don’t know who the guardians are.
  • There are about 25 guardians in Bradford County, spread out over seven schools.
  • They support at least one full-time deputy also stationed on campus.

Statewide, education officials said guardians must pass psychological and drug screenings, and successfully complete a minimum of 144 hours of training.

“Some of these jurisdictions throughout the country have these gun-free zone signs that they put up saying that the schools do not have armed personnel on them,” Smith said. “We are the opposite mindset there. And, you know, we let everybody know that yeah, we do have armed personnel and not just law enforcement, but guardians on campus.”

Guardians get a $500 stipend, and the Florida Department of Education provides funding for training.

Currently, it’s the state is giving the extra money for the schools to have school security,” Smith added. “Now, it’s up to the schools, school administration, and then the school boards to decide specifically how that money is going to be spent in the individual districts.”

Smith noted every situation is fluid so he can’t say if a guardian would have made a difference in Uvalde. However, in this district, it’s an added layer of defense.

The 2019 Florida Legislature expanded the guardian program to include Class D and G licensed security guards, as well as certain school district or charter school employees who volunteer to participate in the program, the FDOE reports.

Right now, 45 of the 67 counties in Florida have some sort of guardian program in place:

  • Alachua
  • Baker
  • Bay
  • Bradford
  • Brevard
  • Broward
  • Citrus
  • Clay
  • Dade
  • Duval
  • Escambia
  • Franklin
  • Gadsden
  • Gilchrist
  • Hamilton
  • Hendry
  • Hernando
  • Hillsborough
  • Holmes
  • Jackson
  • Lafayette
  • Lake
  • Leon
  • Madison
  • Manatee
  • Marion
  • Martin
  • Nassau
  • Okaloosa
  • Okeechobee
  • Orange
  • Osceola
  • Palm Beach
  • Pasco
  • Pinellas
  • Polk
  • Putnam
  • Sarasota
  • St. Johns
  • Sumter
  • Suwannee
  • Taylor
  • Volusia
  • Wakulla
  • Walton

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.