TAMPA — With scarce dollars and a mandate to provide armed protection for all students, some Tampa Bay area school officials have started to make use of a state initiative they once disparaged.
Named for a coach who was slain in the Feb. 14 Parkland massacre and enacted after opposition to an earlier proposal to arm teachers, the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program is a way to qualify other school employees to carry weapons and defend campuses against lethal intruders.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister was among those who earlier this year scoffed at the idea of arming teachers, which was first proposed by President Trump. And the guardian program never caught on among educators and law enforcement as the best way to protect schools.
But Chronister stood with Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Thursday to unveil a security plan that relies on trained security officers, including many who already work in Hillsborough schools.
“As much as I am opposed to arming our educators,” Chronister said, “there is a unique reality here in Hillsborough with an almost 40-year-old, established agency of security personnel that we can take advantage of. I can feel comfortable that they are going to provide the level of professionalism, safety and security to keep our children safe.”
Florida’s school security mandate has officials in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties scrambling to place an armed person on every campus by the new school year, which begins in August.
The hurdles are time and money, with not enough of either for districts to meet the mandate as they would like. The favored option among most educators is to hire school resource officers, or SROs, who are certified law enforcement officers. But that is proving expensive, with not enough money from the state to offset the cost.