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-Director named for Office of Safe Schools
-Controversy over Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program

By Tami Stevenson

Although desperately needed, school officials throughout the state of Florida are scrambling to meet new deadlines and requirements in order to comply with the new school safety laws. Legislators admit their plan may not be perfect but is a move in the right direction in keeping students safe.

Following the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, last February, where 17 people were killed, Governor Rick Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. One component of the comprehensive law was the creation of the Office of Safe Schools within the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and the appointment of its director by May 1.

The Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart met the deadline and announced last week long-time law enforcement officer Damien Kelly as director of the newly created Office of Safe Schools. Kelly’s background appears at the end of this article.

Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program

According to news sources, some counties like Suwannee, Bay, Okeechobee and Hendry are planning on taking advantage of the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program that entails arming certain qualified staff to keep their schools safe. But many others are against arming their regular staff, however qualified, and are exploring other options like hiring safety officers and sheriff’s deputies. Although the guardian program will bring $67.5 million from the state, and another $97.5 million for more resource officers, many school officials do not feel it will be enough funds to cover everything. Also, with so many counties opting out of the program, some are concerned about what will happen with the unused funds allocated to it and are hoping for more legislation to allow for its redirection. Although the DOE has already stated they will work with legislators to that end. Other school officials are against the guardian program for insurance reasons, saying costs would be astronomical.

According to a release from the Governor’s office, the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program will be under the purview of locally-elected sheriff’s offices. Participation in this program is 100 percent voluntary and optional and does not allow classroom teachers to carry firearms with exceptions made for those involved in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), current or retired armed service members and current or retired law enforcement officers.

Participation in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program must be agreed upon by the locally elected school board members and the local sheriff’s office. Each member of school personnel must complete 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training to be eligible for participation in the program. The program also requires mandatory active shooter training in schools every semester.

Apparently, the state will also provide another $99 million to address specific school safety needs within each school district. This includes school hardening measures such as metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks. The Office of Safe Schools will work in consultation with sheriffs and police chiefs to approve school safety plans and provide school hardening grants to school districts.

By July 1, 2018, each school board, in coordination with their County Sheriff, is expected to determine how many people they intend to train using the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program. Once participation decisions have been made, as previously stated, DOE will work with the Governor’s Office and the Legislature to redirect any unused funding from this program to hire additional school officers.

Kelly Background: Damien Kelly has been employed by FDLE since 2005, most recently as a public corruption inspector. During his time at FDLE, Agent Kelly led protective operations, accepted domestic and international assignments and became an expert in firearms certification and proficiency; surveillance and protective operations; and gang investigation and interrogation. Also while at FDLE, Kelly served as a section team leader overseeing and providing training to fellow officers. Before joining FDLE, he spent 12 years as a police officer for City of Memphis Police Department.