The Lake County School Board voted Monday night to allow eligible school administrators who volunteer and meet training requirements to carry guns on school campuses and serve as armed responders to active shooter incidents. The move was to comply with the state’s new school security law that requires compliance by the start of the upcoming school year.
Currently, the district has at least one officer or deputy in every middle and high school, but none in elementary schools. To enhance student safety at every school, the new law gives districts three options. The first is to use certified officers placed through local law enforcement agencies. The second is to create a district police department staffed with certified officers. The third option allows armed school personnel through what is known as the “guardian program,” short for the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program established in the aftermath of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida.
Superintendent Diane Kornegay recommended support of the program, noting that she would prefer to have a certified law enforcement officer (SRO) in every school and will continue to work toward that goal. The state didn't provide enough funding and the district doesn’t have the money to have them in place by the beginning of the school year as required by law.
An informal poll found that 30 administrators are interested in participating in the guardian program. Teachers and other employees are excluded from participation. A district-wide survey in April found that the majority of employees, students, parents and community members did not approve of school personnel having access to a secured weapon on campus during school hours.
School Board Chairman Stephanie Luke, along with board members Marc Dodd and Bill Mathias, voted in support of the measure. Board members Sandy Gamble and Kristi Burns cast the dissenting votes.
"Evil exists and we have an obligation to protect our kids," Mathias said before the vote.
“I have mixed thoughts,” said Gamble. "No matter what you do, you're not going to make everybody happy. I'm not sure this is the right way."
Kornegay has been meeting with local police departments, city managers and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to try to find ways of sharing the cost, but many of those agencies are strapped for cash as well. In addition, law enforcement agencies are finding it difficult to hire enough officers to meet the growing demand as 67 school districts scamper to place officers before the new school year begins.
"Whether one agrees or disagrees with the guardian program, we must comply with the law and without the needed funding and the people to fill positions, we must consider every available option," Kornegay said. The board also voted unanimously to ask Lake County commissioners to place a referendum on the ballot this year for approval of a 0.75 mill ad valorem millage tax. If approved, the $16 million raised would go toward student safety through the hiring of more social workers, counselors and nurses, along with in-house alternative education programs, in-school suspension programs and some "school hardening" measures to make buildings and classrooms more secure.
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