A look at changes for Florida school officers amid Peterson trial | #schoolsaftey

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — As schools in Florida close for the summer, the trial of former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resource officer Scot Peterson is underway.

Peterson is facing seven counts of felony child neglect over his handling of the Parkland mass shooting. In total, a gunman murdered 14 students and three staff members.

Just three weeks after the tragic Valentine’s Day in 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The changes required public schools to have an officer.

In addition, The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after the assistant football coach who was murdered, was established.

It allows people who meet certain criteria to serve as school guardians. Typically, they could be former first responders or those with military experience.

Florida school districts may also vote to allow teachers to be armed, which some have found controversial.

The vision started in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff Grady Judd’s leadership prior to the Parkland mass shooting. 

He believes even more school guardians could help keep schools safer. As far as firearm trainings, Judd said school guardians must show a “little higher” proficiency than even a police officer.

“One’s better than none, two is better than one, three is better than two, four is better than three,” Judd said.

As of Wednesday, the program varies by school district.

For instance, Hillsborough County Public Schools has 388 school safety officers in its elementary schools. Meanwhile, a school resource deputy or officer patrols its middle and high schools.

In Polk County, at least 112 safety guardians are in place. Each elementary school has one guardian, and every middle and high school has a school resource officer or deputy.

Sarasota County Schools has at least 49 school resource officers, while the School District of Manatee County has 49 guardians, but none are volunteers. 

The heightened importance on school officers has shifted with school mass shootings becoming more prevalent, said Dr. David Thomas, Florida Gulf Coast University professor of forensic studies.

Thomas, who served 20 years as a police officer, said while Florida schools are much safer due to improved training and protocols, they’re only as effective as the people who are responsible for it.

“The weakest link in any security system are the humans that use it,” Thomas said.

Other mass shootings like the one at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, garnered criticism for Texas state police’s handling of it. In total, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.

In Peterson’s case, he approached the building with his gun drawn 73 seconds before Cruz reached the third floor, but instead of entering, he backed away as gunfire sounded, according to the Associated Press.

He becomes the first U.S. law enforcement officer prosecuted for his alleged actions and inaction during a school shooting.

“We can never guarantee that there won’t be an active shooter,” Judd said. “All we can tell you is we’ve reduced the probabilities and we’ve created an infrastructure for a better response should that occur.”

In total, 46 school districts statewide participate in the Guardian Program. Other major changes enacted include Alyssa’s Law named after Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the students killed at MDS.

The law requires all Florida public schools, including charter schools, to implement a panic alert system. 


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