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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, May 22, 2018 3 months ago

Volusia County School district outlines plan to increase school safety, implement more school resource officers

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The Volusia County School District is in need of 44 school resource officers.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

The Volusia County School District will need to implement 44 new school resource officers throughout the county by the start of the next school year to be in compliance with state law as a result of the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” which calls for one armed person at every school.

At the school board meeting on Tuesday, May 22, Chief Operating Officer Greg Akin said only 26 of the 70 schools in the county currently have a school resource officer. School Board member Ida Wright, who represents district 2, said they need help to allocate funding to this cause. She illustrated her point by using Deltona as an example — the city with the most schools in need of 11 school resource officers, and one whose government leaders she said have stated they have no money to implement them.

“It is not a school’s issue," Wright said. "It’s a society issue, and if we don’t address it as a society issue, we’ll never have funding.”

School Board Chair Linda Cuthbert, who also represents district 3, said the board could send letters to all municipalities to request their participation in some way.

“We can’t do it all," Cuthbert said.

But before the start of the school year, the school district will also need to identify the number of staff to be trained under the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program by July 1. The voluntary program is funded by a partnership agreement between the district and the sheriff's office and will designate trained faculty and staff as "special deputy sheriffs" with no arrest power. It excludes staff members who exclusively work as classroom teachers.

The program comprises of 132 total hours of comprehensive firearm safety and training. Akin said the preliminary costs per school resource officer are about $89,000 but are expected to go up to $94,000 by the start of the next school year. Guardians cost far less, ranging between $30,000-$50,000. 

Volusia County School Superintendent Tom Russell said implementing a municipal police officer or sheriff's deputy at each school was preferred, but there were two barriers to that: the mandate is only partially funded and the local law enforcement agencies are severely understaffed. 

School Board member Carl Persis said his overriding concern with the plan was that the latest school shootings were caused by students themselves. He said having a school resource officer at every school was not the "total answer."

“It doesn’t stop a student who is a person everybody knows on the campus from coming in with a trench coat with a gun and then go into his classroom and start shooting," Persis said.

Akin said that is where the prevention aspect of the plan comes in. Schools will now hold active shooter drills quarterly, implement student crime watch programs for anonymous reporting, establish school-level threat assessment teams and require previous mental health referrals to be disclosed at registration. The district will also designate a school safety specialist by July 1. 

Prevention also falls on the parents, Akin said, who need to be aware of their children's social media use. He suggested parents search their children's bags when necessary.

“This is to mitigate the loss of life and deter students from doing this," Akin said. "It takes every person — every student, faculty member, parent, community, grandparent, aunt, uncle, whoever, to identify the students who have some concerns and get them the help they need and be able to resolve these issues.”

The plan will be brought back for school board approval at the next meeting on June 12.

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