Judge Will Decide Whether To Dismiss ‘Safety Assistants’ Lawsuit Against Duval Schools

Apr 26, 2019

A group of Duval parents are being asked to tweak their argument in a legal fight against armed guards in public schools.

At a Thursday hearing, Circuit Court Judge Robert M. Dees postponed judgement on a request to dismiss their complaint against the Duval County School Board.

Related: Lawsuit Filed Against Duval Public Schools For Arming Safety Assistants

The parents’ attorneys were making two arguments: that the program of putting armed guards into more than 100 elementary schools endangers students instead of protecting them and that it violates Florida law that prohibits anyone other than police from carrying guns in school.

“We’d be more than happy to litigate a complaint that says your program is not in compliance with state statute,” said Dees, who gave them two weeks to amend their challenge and the defendants a week after that to respond.

In November, three parents and the Florida League of Women Voters, with pro bono support from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Giffords Law Center, sued after the School Board greenlighted so-called “safety-assistants” in compliance with a state law passed after the Parkland school shooting.

The Duval County School Board voted last June to allow the assistants in all 107 elementary schools because the District was unable afford hiring a police officer at every school.

At the heart of the case is whether or not the statute (SB 7026) allows school employees who are not law enforcement officers to carry guns in schools.

Related: Florida Coastal Dean Weighs In On Lawsuit Against Duval County School District

The statute requires the “school guardians” to “complete 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training, pass psychological evaluations, and pass drug tests,” which School Board defense attorney Steven J. Powell argues means lawmakers intended for them to carry guns.   

“It simply makes no sense to look at the statute and say, ‘Yeah, you can have guardians and you have to make them do all this stuff with respect to firearms training and require their weapons to be inspected whenever the sheriff wants to if they’re not actually having weapons for real,” said Powell. “That alone disposes all their arguments.”

According to the district, its safety assistants undergo 200 hours of training with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. They are paid $12.50 an hour.

Justin P. Raphael, representing the parents, said the matter is far too complicated to infer.

“If the Legislature wanted safety assistants to carry weapons, it would have enacted something like that,” he said. “SB 7026 itself had a provision that would’ve authorized school guardians to carry guns but that was not in the final bill.”

The judge dismissed the claim about students’ being endangered after Raphael said the district hasn’t been forthcoming with information about how the program is working and how it’s training its safety assistants.

The parents have until May 6 to amend their motion. The defendants will then have another week to file a response, after which Dees will make a decision about whether to allow the case to go forward.