In 2018, the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program was established through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act after the tragic school shooting that took the lives of 17.
That same year Holmes County School District implemented the guardian program into their schools.
“Our goal is to have multiple guardians in each school,” said Superintendent Buddy Brown. “We have a new group of guardians completing training in the next two weeks. We are thrilled to have that extra layer of protection for our students.”
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission determined that having guardians in schools is the best way to ensure highly trained personnel are in place to respond immediately in the event of a school shooting, according to the Florida Department of Education website.
Holmes is one of 46 counties in the state that participate in the guardian program. Each school has at least one guardian not including the school resource officer. School district employees who choose to take part in the program face rigorous vetting and training before becoming a guardian.
“The guardian candidates undergo a strenuous vetting process which includes psychological testing and drug screening prior to starting training,” Brown said. “Once that portion is complete, they will go on to do nearly 160 hours of guardian training through the sheriff’s office.”
The Holmes County Sheriff’s Office teaches defensive and offensive tactics and legal course work, but the majority of training is done on the shooting range. The goal behind the shooting range is to prepare the would-be guardians to handle any given scenario with complete ease and to handle their weapon like it is a part of them.
“Not only do the candidates go through all of that training, they are going through diversity training as well,” Brown said.
The state legislature expanded the program in 2019 to allow teachers to become guardians. Adding more than school administrators to the list of those who can participate allows for a shorter response time to an active shooter situation.
“We used to ask teachers to allow five minutes for someone to respond to an emergency,” Brown said. “Law enforcement would need nine to 10 minutes. Having guardians allows a response time of seconds. Our goal is to have them there in less than a minute because in an active shooter situation, every second counts.”
Holmes County Sheriff John Tate believes having guardians in the schools is a great idea.
“When the district decided to participate in this program, I was ready to jump in to do my part,” Tate said. “We are happy to provide the training for those that want to participate.”
Brown didn’t have the same outlook 15 years ago.
“If this would have been brought back in 2006, I would not have been supportive of it,” Brown said. “But we live in a different world now. It is important to have added protection, because what happens if there was a shooting that could have been stopped quickly? The lives of our students outweigh the liability.”
The new law also allows for the expansion of the school guardian program into private schools. Washington County does not currently have any school guardians but Sheriff Kevin Crews is ready to aid in making the program come to fruition if the district decides to go that route.
“After the Majorie Stoneman Douglas Act was passed, we pushed to get resource officers in every school,” Crews said. “We have six SROs and one supervisor in the district. If the district decided to go with guardians, we would gladly help make that happen.”
Holmes County School District decided to take part in the guardian program as well as manning each of the schools with an SRO.
“We currently have 22 guardians in the program,” Tate said. “We have 10 who have completed the training and 12 more in training. Every school in the district has guardians.”