FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s public schools should have realistic active-shooter drills and any armed school employees must be trained by a sheriff’s office and not a private company, the commission investigating last year’s high school massacre recommended Tuesday to the Legislature.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, meeting in Orlando, recommended that each school have four active-shooter drills per year and that each be unique so teachers and students have to react to the situation presented. The drills might include fleeing, locking down inside a classroom or hiding.
Most schools were just doing lockdown drills and some were just reminding students what they should do in case of a shooting, the commissioners said. School administrators would have to file a report within 30 days of a drill outlining any problems and a sworn police officer would have to be present during the drill, if the recommendation is adopted.
“This is progress — this is going to make the schools safer,” said commissioner Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in the Feb. 14, 2018, attack that left 17 dead and 17 wounded. However, commissioners rejected Schachter’s proposal that students be taught how to counterattack an assailant. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission’s chairman, said that would be too controversial in parts of the state.
The commission also criticized the Palm Beach County school district for hiring a private firm to train the armed civilian guardians it is using at some charter schools, which they said violated at least the spirit of state law.
Under Florida law adopted after the massacre, all public schools must have either a police officer, a dedicated guard employed by the district or armed employees on campus while classes are in session. Palm Beach has a district police department, but it attempted to supplement those officers by hiring 30 guards for charter schools.
Instead of having the guards trained by the sheriff, the district hired an outside company at $3,000 per trainee, which the commission said violated the law’s intent that the sheriff’s office conduct the training. The commission said the company’s instructors did not have the proper credentials and it passed candidates who didn’t meet the minimum qualifications.
The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office refused to certify the 15 trainees who had completed the course or the 12 who were in progress. The district then hired sheriff’s deputies to protect the charter schools until the applicants could be properly trained.
The 15-member commission is composed of law enforcement, education and mental health professionals, a state legislator plus Schachter and another father who lost children in the attack. It plans to complete its recommendation’s Wednesday for its second annual report.
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