The Duval County School Board heard from school police Chief Micheal Edwards Tuesday, who is heading up the hiring of 105 school safety assistants to patrol the district’s elementary schools.
The board approved the school safety position in May in order to comply with a new state requirement that schools employ sworn officers or trained guards at their schools. Duval already staffs its middle and high schools with sworn officers.
Edwards said his department posted the position on the district’s website on May 7 and has received 316 applications. He’s recruited at various job fairs since May including a military and district fair.
Salaries for these new safety assistants start at $12.50 an hour or $20,600 annually, with summers off. Their main job will be to intervene or prevent an active assailant incident. They will also participate in school emergency drills and patrol the perimeter.
Edwards said 182 potential hires have attended orientation and information sessions since May. At those sessions the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has sent a trainer offering free concealed weapons permit classes. Having a permit is a requirement of the job, according to the new state law.
In addition, Edwards showed photos of the uniforms safety assistants will wear -- tan vests, tan pants and either a green or tan polo. The vests are designed to cover the safety assistants gun, another requirement of the new law.
During the meeting, board member Ashley Smith Juarez cautioned her colleagues about moving forward with the plan, saying many constituents have reached out to her and they don’t feel any comfort with it. She was the lone vote against creating the position.
“I have had more than several parents tell me they will send children elsewhere or homeschool children,” she said.
Smith Juarez argued the state law doesn’t explicitly say the safety assistants, which will be trained under a firearm-heavy “guardian” program, have to actually carry guns on campus. And she suggested sworn officers rotating throughout schools.
However, board member Warren Jones and Superintendent Patricia Willis said they believe the law’s intent is for the new hires to carry guns.
The school board had passed a resolution against against arming school employees when the legislature was considering the measure. But with only $3.6 million from the state to fulfill the mandate, the district said it can’t come up with the more than $10 million to staff elementary schools with sworn officers.
Edwards said if the district had the money, sworn officers would be the best decision. But he also added, he wouldn’t be able to hire 105 officers by next school year.
“That would be a three to five year process,” he said.
During the meeting, board member Becki Couch asked Edwards to explain the difference in training between security guards and Duval’s new safety assistants. Edwards said while armed security guards get 68 hours of training, safety assistants will be getting 200 hours.
He added the number of hours safety assistants will be spending on firearm training with the guns they’ll be using, is more than JSO officers get. They’re trained to use a number of different guns.
“Normal officers don’t receive 104 hours of training,” Edwards said. “This 104 hours is how to operate the weapon [a school safety assistant] is carrying today.”
Duval schools are split up into six zones, and three lieutenants are over them. Board members asked if there was a possibility those lieutenants could be based in schools. But it wasn’t clear if that will be happening.
With $3.6 million coming from the state, the district will be funding $672,517 for the safety assistant plan next school year. Training will happen in July.