JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State leaders are considering an expansion to Florida’s school guardian program.
The guardian program was introduced after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and provides a framework for armed safety officers to police public and charter schools.
News4JAX spoke to the state’s top education official about the controversial program that nearly 70% of districts are enrolled in, including Duval County.
Education commissioner Manny Diaz has pushed for expanding the program.
“We have all this funding for mental health, we have all these things in place. But at the end of the day, if something goes awry, the last layer of defense is, you know, the officer and having guardians at a lot of these campuses, one person’s not enough,” Diaz said.
Diaz is touting the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.
Launched after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland and named after one of its victims, the program supplemented a state law that required an armed person to guard every public and charter school in the state.
That can be district police, local police, security contractors or, under the program, a school guardian.
In order to become a guardian, one needs to pass psychological and drug screenings, and complete 144 hours of training.
“I think it is going to provide safety for our students. And this is what our parents are demanding. And this is something that the governor wants to see that our kids are safe so that parents don’t have to worry about dropping off their kids and not being safe in school,” Diaz said.
One idea that’s been floated is to expand the program in more school districts and potentially have more guardians in each school.
On Tuesday, Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey met with citizens in her zone to field questions on what the public wants to see happen with the program.
Right now, DCPS does not arm teachers, staff or administrators and the safe school officers on each campus are dedicated to that job alone.
A DCPS spokesperson said there is currently no proposal on the table to expand the guardian program in Duval County.
Meanwhile, opponents to the program including the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are planning to demonstrate and protest any expansion.