Parents sue over Duval County school safety assistants

Group of parents, nonprofits file lawsuit against DCPS

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Some parents are suing Duval County Public Schools, claiming it's putting elementary school students in jeopardy with its implementation of a state law meant to bolster student safety after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

A group of parents and two nonprofits says school safety assistants will actually put students in more danger, and they’ve filed a lawsuit against DCPS, as first reported by The Florida Times-Union

The lawsuit filed Thursday in state court in Jacksonville says DCPS created special positions of armed staffers, known as school safety assistants, who weren't law enforcement or previously employed at the schools.

The parents say these school safety assistants have less training than officers and no background interacting with youth.

COURT DOCUMENT: Group's lawsuit vs DCPS

In the lawsuit filed Thursday, attorneys argue that state law, "generally prohibits individuals and other than law enforcement officers from carrying guns in schools."

News4Jax spoke by phone with an attorney who said the program not only violates state law, but also creates significant risks. 

"There's lot of research out there that proves placing guns in an environment increased the risk of injury and death from gunshots," attorney Hannah Shearer said. "It’s expected that accidental shootings and other mishaps are going to increase when you have new hires that don’t have the same training as law enforcement officers."

Florida reacted to the Parkland high school massacre in February by becoming the first state to require police or armed guards at all public schools.

Duval County was one of many school districts, including Pasco and Pinellas, that established guardian programs to meet the security requirements put in place after Parkland. Other districts in the state chose to put law enforcement officers in schools.

If lawyers succeed in stopping Duval County's program, other counties will be restricted as well. 

The Duval County school district isn't commenting on the pending litigation, but parents have plenty to say. 

"If it’s law enforcement, yes. If it’s a teacher, no," parent Adam Hill said. "Only law enforcement should have firearms because they are trained for situations. The teachers aren’t."

"I think they should totally stop them from getting people in schools guns. You don’t know what would happen," student Tamaya Martin said. "Guns shouldn’t be in the school."

Parents are split on the issue of the guns in schools.

"I don't like it. I'm not comfortable with the fact. It scares me," parent Dawn Hill said.

Parent Cookie Thornton said, "I think, you know, if the kids have guns, so you want to make the people that are there to protect can protect us."

Anyone can apply to be a school safety assistant, but they must go through a background check, complete 80 hours of firearms training, 16 hours of precision pistol instruction plus training in diversity and legal issues.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is among the groups representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. It’s led by Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who survived an assassination attempt in 2012 and is now a gun control advocate.

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