Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Are Pasco County schools likely to adopt an armed employee ‘marshal’ plan?

During Senate debate Saturday, majority leader Wilton Simpson, a Pasco County Republican, advocated firmly in favor of a "marshal" program that would allow school districts to work with sheriff's offices in training and arming school employees.

"In my community, we probably will want this program," said Simpson, who also represents Hernando and Citrus counties.

He stressed that the program would be voluntary: "The only thing we are doing is leaving it open as an option for local communities to decide their own fate of their children."

Pasco County school district officials noted that it's a choice, and have indicated they are not keen to participate.

"I have voiced my concerns to Sheriff [Chris] Nocco" about arming school employees, said superintendent Kurt Browning. "I am not convinced that that is the best way to keep our students safe. Any time you introduce more firearms into a school campus, I believe there is a higher risk of injury. These are not law enforcement officers."

School Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong echoed Browning's comments. Vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley sent a letter to Simpson and others criticizing the concept, and asking them not to arm teachers.

In an emailed statement, Nocco said he would respect the school district's position.

"As in all school security matters, it needs to be a collaborative effort," Nocco wrote. "Whether it is additional school resource officers or private security guards to augment security at our schools, either would be beneficial to enhance the protection of our children."

Nocco stated that he agreed with district officials that larger high and middle schools need additional law enforcement or security, to ease the workload that currently exists on deputies in the schools.

He further raised concerns that current funding levels don't provide enough money to find and train deputies to fill all schools.

"To hire, train, and bring on this large contingent of deputies would be exorbitant," Nocco wrote. "It is more important to look at a holistic and layered approach that includes threat assessment teams, hardening school environment, additional school resource officers and supplementing them with security guards."

Hernando County officials recently agreed to add more resource officers to schools, and said they are working on additional school safety improvement plans.

Citrus County school district leaders also made it clear at a recent school safety workshop that armed employees is not a probable solution for them, according to the Citrus County Chronicle.

The marshal plan returns to the Senate and House today for additional debate.

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