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Families sue to stop Duval County’s school guard program

The suit contends the program hires and illegally arms inadequately trained individuals to police the schools.
Sgt. John Luckett of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office holds up a sample of the uniforms to be worn by the new state-mandated security officers. The officers will be one of the more obvious changes at Florida schools as the state moves to beef up security in the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland. "It's the new reality that we live in," said Pasco County sheriff's Lt. Troy Fergueson. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Sgt. John Luckett of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office holds up a sample of the uniforms to be worn by the new state-mandated security officers. The officers will be one of the more obvious changes at Florida schools as the state moves to beef up security in the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland. "It's the new reality that we live in," said Pasco County sheriff's Lt. Troy Fergueson. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Nov. 29, 2018|Updated Nov. 29, 2018

A group of Duval County families has joined the League of Women Voters in challenging their school district's implementation of Florida's new school security guard program, created in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting in February.

In their complaint in county court, they argue the program places elementary students in danger by bringing inadequately trained armed guards into the schools.

Duval was one of many school districts, including Pasco and Pinellas, that established guardian programs to meet the security requirements of SB 7026. Those included placing at least one law enforcement officer or guard at every school.

Many found they could not afford sworn full-time officers, and so they turned to the less well paid guards, who would be required to undergo 132 hours of training.

Related coverage: Cost plays a role as Pasco votes to put armed security guards in elementary schools  

"While perhaps a well-intended effort to comply with a new state school safety law, the program is based on an incorrect interpretation of — and is contrary to — law. Florida law clearly prohibits anyone other than law
enforcement officers from carrying guns on school campuses," lawyers for the Duval plaintiffs wrote. "The Board's program, which arms non-law-enforcement officers with guns, is thus illegal and should be enjoined."

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is among the groups representing the complaining parties.

"After the Parkland shooting, students and parents alike demanded that the legislature take action to keep Florida schools safe, but the legislature made a mess of the school-safety legislation and failed to give Florida counties adequate resources to create safe, healthy learning environments," Giffords chief legal counsel Adam Skaggs said in a released statement.

"Duval County's response, while perhaps well-intentioned, made a bad situation worse and created a dangerous and unlawful policy that will traumatize young children, put them at risk of injury or worse, and will fail to prevent the kind of tragic shootings that have become commonplace in America."

The lawsuit comes days after the chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission suggested that schools should consider arming teachers as part of their defense to future shooting incidents.

Related coverage: Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri now supports armed teachers to stop school shooters 

A spokesman for the Duval County school district said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Read the full complaint here.

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