Another school district in Northeast Florida is taking part in the Guardian Program, which allows armed staff to patrol school grounds.
The Florida Department of Education Wednesday announced St. Johns County is one of three new counties joining the program. The other two are Citrus and Gadsden counties.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran lauded the district’s decision, saying students and parents have demanded increased security.
“There are cowards who prey on our schools, and with each new district who takes advantage of this opportunity to safeguard their students, the State of Florida is sending a message that we are united in protecting our state’s future generations,” said Corcoran, in a statement to WJCT News.
According to Corcoran, 33 of Florida's 67 counties are now participating in the Guardian Program and another 15 have expressed interest.
The Guardian Program was created after last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. A state law required districts to have at least one armed person at every school. Those unable to provide funding for police could participate in the program.
Under the program, the so-called guardians are required to complete 144 hours of firearms safety and proficiency training, pass psychological evaluations, and pass drug tests through the local sheriff's office.
“Guardian training for our district is being delivered by the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office as part of our contract with Allied Security,” wrote St. Johns County School District spokeswoman Christina Langston, in an email to WJCT News. “Senate Bill 7030 expanded the Guardian Program to include the training component for security personnel.”
The district will train 18 school security guards and two supervisors over the summer, which is expected to cost about $126,263, according to a recent school board presentation. The total annual cost is projected to be $779,178.
The Duval County Public Schools district was among the first to deploy guardians, also known as school safety assistants. Duval’s program has come fire. The district is currently being sued by parents who say the program violates Florida law that prohibits carrying guns in schools by anyone who’s not a police officer.
Gov. DeSantis recently approved expanding the program to include classroom teachers, but both St. Johns and Duval Counties have said their teachers will not be carrying guns.
Other Northeast Florida counties that participate in the Guardian Program are Baker, Clay, Nassau and Putnam.