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East County Wednesday, Jun. 13, 2018 2 months ago

Guardians role could be short term for school district of Manatee County

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School board members consider ways to keep certified law enforcement personnel in schools.
by: Amelia Hanks Community Reporter

As the sound of simulated gunfire rang over the intercom system June 6 at Bayshore High School in Bradenton during an “active shooter drill,” Scott Hopes started to wonder if the proposed Guardian Program for the School District of Manatee County was the right choice.

Hopes, chairman of the school board, decided to meet June 8 with Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells to discuss alternatives.

Wells and Hopes talked about ways the Sheriff’s Office could add new deputies so the Guardian Program, even if it goes forward, could be phased out.

The school board held its scheduled meeting June 12 (after the East County Observer’s deadline for this issue) and was expected to decide whether to go forward with hiring guardians. Hopes said experiencing the active shooter drill didn’t give him confidence in the Guardian Program.

“You don’t know when it’s coming,” Hopes said of a possible attack on a local school. “When the sounds started (at the drill), you didn’t know how real it was going to feel.”

Scott Hopes, chairman of the school board, spoke about finding an alternative solution to the Guardian program at the site of the active shooter training.

That feeling left Hopes considering ways to keep the experts — law enforcement personnel — on the scene.

Bayshore High School’s active shooter drill occurred a few weeks after a student was arrested May 22 for having a gun at the school.

Ron Ciranna, the deputy superintendent of business and operations for the School District of Manatee County, presented a plan to the school board May 22 to fund a Guardian Program in response to a state mandate and after the county refused to pick up any part of the tab for the extra 30 security personnel needed to meet the required quota of one resource officer at every school.

If guardians are hired, they will undergo four weeks of training, including gun safety, and they will also undergo rigorous psychological examinations.

School board member John Colon, like Hopes, said he would prefer to have Sheriff’s Office deputies in the schools.

“The price of a child’s safety isn’t one that I take lightly,” Colon said. “I am willing to pay for more Sheriff’s Office deputies if that would keep our children safer.”

School board member Charlie Kennedy said the active shooter drill changed his perspective on whether they will support the Guardian Program long term.

He said he would be willing to explore ways to shift funds in the school budget to keep certified law enforcement personnel.

Kennedy did say the district already has received many applications, including retired military and law enforcement personnel, for a guardians position.

However, would any of them be interested if the program is set to be phased out in a year?

Depending on the board’s actions in the June 12 meeting, it might be about to find out.

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