Trio ready to guard Nassau’s youngest students
The Nassau County School District implemented the Guardian Program to bolster school security efforts, beginning with three new hires.
Kyle Lane, Laurie Baughan and William Schmelling completed certification requirements Feb. 8 to become the first-ever members of the program, according to a Nassau County Sheriff’s Office press release.
They will be armed and assigned to elementary schools across the county. The NCSO will continue to provide armed school resource officers at middle and high schools as contracted by the school board. Guardians will not have arrest powers that SROs and school safety officers have.
School resource officers are NCSO and City of Fernandina Beach Police Department personnel who are contracted by the school district. Safety officers, who are certified law enforcement officers, and school guardians are employed by the school district.
The school district currently pays for nine school resource officers under contract with the City of Fernandina Beach and NCSO, according to J. Ray Poole, chief of legal services, Nassau County School District.
“We have an armed SRO, school safety officer or guardian at each school in the school district,” Poole wrote via email. “Our focus is primarily upon staffing schools with SROs and school safety officers, since people in those positions are sworn law enforcement officers. However, where an applicant is not a sworn law enforcement officer but has a military background, we will consider hiring them as a guardian.”
The school board’s long-range goal is to phase out the utilization of officers from the City of Fernandina Beach Police Department and hire either school safety officers or guardians for schools on the island, according to Poole.
Executive Director of Business Services Susan Farmer provided the budgetary outlay.
“Our projections for the current year are $293,105 for the City of Fernandina Beach and $238,691 for the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office,” she wrote via email. “We reimburse the city and sheriff in full for salaries and benefits that they provide to their officers who serve as SROs at our schools. Additionally, we pay the sheriff’s office to provide training to our school safety officers and guardians.”
The school district’s Office of Safety and Security oversees protection services supplied to campuses, including the Guardian Program.
Farmer continued, “Funding for this program comes from (Florida Education Finance Program) Safe Schools funding and local taxpayer dollars.”
The starting salary for school safety officers ranges from $28,144 to $30,742 depending on the amount of experience.
“These officers can earn supplemental pay for certifications and educational degrees,” Farmer notes.
Guardian starting pay also ranges from $28,144 to $30,742 based on experience.
The Guardian Program arrived nearly a year after the Feb. 14, 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting where 14 students and three school personnel were killed. Seventeen people were also injured in the incident. Florida legislators approved the Guardian Program as part of a bill that then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law.
The three candidates underwent extensive background checks and psychological examinations before they were hired by the school district. They also participated in an “intensive four-week training program” hosted by the NCSO’s Training Division, which began Jan. 14.
“A combination of basic firearms instruction, CPR/TECC certification, defensive tactics education, active-shooter scenario-based drills and classroom instruction about diversity, legal issues and concealed carry laws, the training program was designed to prepare trainees to respond to active assailant incidents on school premises,” according to the press release. “The state-mandated curriculum required 144 hours of instruction; however, these new guardians were given 156 hours of training by NCSO deputies to make sure they are more than capable of protecting our schools.”
According to the press release, “After one more week of training with School District Safety Specialist Glenn Virden, who was hired to oversee school security in Nassau County, the guardians took their posts assigned to elementary schools across the county along with school safety officers, who are certified law enforcement officers already hired by the Nassau County School District. The NCSO will continue to provide training in various capacities throughout the year.”
During a recent meeting with other Florida sheriffs, NCSO Sheriff Bill Leeper received a briefing on the Parkland shooting from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualteri. He served as chairman of a committee assigned to review the shooting.
“This committee provided their initial 439-page report to the legislature and governor on what happened, why it happened and what if anything can be done to prevent these types of situations from occurring in the future,” the press release notes. “After the briefing, Sheriff Leeper noted there was obvious failure in several areas that need correcting from the mental health treatment to school security, preparedness, communication, policy, procedures and priorities, to the poor response by law enforcement.”
The group also watched video of the shooting.
According to the press release, “Leeper said it was difficult to watch, especially knowing that innocent lives were lost because of the many failures that occurred. A school shooting will happen again. The only questions will be where? When? And what have we done to minimize it happening at our schools?”
For the past year, the NCSO and Leeper have worked closely with the school district to increase school security.
“This is just another step in that direction,” the sheriff noted in the press release. “The training program went really well. Our trainers greatly enjoyed the experience. Being a trainer means taking on new challenges, and this was definitely a large one.”
Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns attended the graduation.
She stated her goal was “to make sure the school district was doing everything possible to allow students to learn and teachers to teach in a safe and secure environment,” the press release notes.
School safety officers and school guardians are still needed. If you or someone you know is interested in one of these positions, call the Nassau County School Board at 904-491-9900.