Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper handed out certificates to three people at a graduation ceremony on Friday, February 8, 2019, officially certifying them as the first ever Nassau County School guardians.
The Guardian Program was approved by the Florida Legislature last year and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott after the school shooting occurred at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) in Parkland Florida where 14 students and 3 school personnel were shot and killed and 17 more were injured.
After a thorough background investigation and psychological exam, the guardians were hired by the Nassau County School District and began their intensive four-week training program hosted by the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office Training Division on January 14, 2019. 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. 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.
While guardians are armed with a handgun, body armor, and a flashlight, unlike NCSO school resource deputies or school safety officers, they do not have arrest powers.
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 will be taking 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.
Sheriff Leeper said the sheriff’s office and school district have been working very closely together over the past year in order to make sure every county school has security on campus and this is just another step in that direction. “The training program went really well,” said Leeper. “Our trainers greatly enjoyed the experience. Being a trainer means taking on new challenges, and this was definitely a large one.”
Nassau County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathy Burns, who attended the graduation ceremony, 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.
Nassau County Schools still need more school safety officers and school guardians to cover every school with built-in relief. If you or someone you know is interested in one of these positions, contact the Nassau County School Board at 904-491-9900.
The sheriff’s office will continue to provide school resource officers at high schools and middle schools within the county as contracted by the school board.
Sheriff Leeper recently attended a meeting in west Florida where all Florida sheriffs were briefed on the MSDHS shooting by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who was chairman of the committee assigned to look into the incident. 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. 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. Sheriffs were also able to view the MSDHS video camera footage that captured the shooting of students and school personnel. 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?