Florida schools struggle to meet security rule

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida reacted to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre by becoming the first state to require police or armed guards at all public schools. It’s a mandate many districts are struggling to meet, financially and logistically.

In the first comprehensive statewide examination of the program, an Associated Press survey of Florida’s 67 countywide school districts found all campuses will be covered when they reopen this month, but many districts are having difficulty funding the program and finding enough applicants. About a third are supplementing officers with armed civilian security guards, including, in some cases, school staff members.

Before the Feb. 14 attack, a few districts already had officers at every campus, but the majority of districts didn’t cover any or most elementary schools, and some didn’t staff all middle schools.

Now every school must have armed protection whenever it’s open. In districts that won’t have full staffing in place when classes start, local law enforcement agencies are filling gaps by taking officers off the street or paying overtime.

That’s happening in Palm Beach County. The district budgeted $9 million to add 75 officers to its 160-member in-house police department, and is asking voters to raise taxes to pay for them. But it isn’t getting enough applicants — Florida has several thousand police and deputy vacancies, and not just for schools.

“There simply are not enough officers to go around,” said Kathy Burstein, Palm Beach schools’ spokeswoman. The district, which has nearly 200,000 students at 170 campuses, will not be arming staff or hiring civilian guards.

The Florida Legislature budgeted $165 million to partially cover districts’ new security costs, but then cut proposed education spending. Before the massacre, Gov. Rick Scott recommended increasing the districts’ base allocation by $152 per student. Legislators, after passing the security package, cut that to 47 cents.

“They robbed Peter to pay Paul,” said Jim Norton, superintendent of the four-school Bay County district in the Panhandle. It had two officers but will now have four plus a supervisor at an additional district cost of about $50,000 — the sheriff’s office is covering the rest. “We all have the same commitment to safer schools, but we also have a duty to provide something beyond daycare.”

The National Center for Education Statistics says a 2016 survey showed two-thirds of U.S. middle and high schools had an assigned police officer at least part-time; about a third of elementary schools were protected this way.

Having an armed guard on campus doesn’t guarantee safety. The deputy at Stoneman Douglas didn’t confront the shooter who killed 17 people. Ten were killed in May at a Texas high school where two school officers exchanged fire with the suspect before he surrendered. But school officers have stopped other shootings before anyone was killed, such as one in May in Dixon, Illinois.

The AP found 45 Florida districts are solely using police officers for campus protection.

Most contract with law enforcement agencies to hire and employ them, while the few that have school police forces are expanding them. An experienced officer …read more

Source:: Nationalpost – News


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