Manatee County School District elementaries welcomed private security guards for the first day on Wednesday, but legal issues arose in the hours before deployment -- concerns that left guards unarmed.
The district's administration has turned to Florida Attorney General's Office for an opinion to settle apparently conflicting state laws and rule on the legality of private personnel carrying firearms on school grounds.
In announcing the bungled rollout Tuesday, Superintendent Rick Mills issued a statement:
"After consulting with outside legal counsel and our staff attorney, it is our opinion that there is no prohibition by statute that prevents armed security guards being placed within public schools. However, the statute upon which the district relies is in a gray area."
Thus, the district requested the state's opinion and deployed the guards unarmed on Wednesday.
A puzzling oversight
That's all fine and well as it goes, but the lack of due diligence early in the process of seeking proposals from security firms should upset the public. In Tuesday's statement, the district indicates that "due to legal concerns raised during the last 24 hours," the guards would not be armed until further notice.
Herald education reporter Meghin Delaney posed the question about legality at midday Friday, but received no response from the administration.
We now have the answer. The district did not know for certain.
While the administration denies acting in haste in moving toward private security in schools, clearly someone dropped the ball and failed to consult the state on the legality of guns on campus in private hands.
In an active shooter situation, unarmed guards provide little if any defense. And school shootings around the nation are a major concern here, too, one of the motivations for armed security.
We hope Attorney General Pam Bondi's office issues clarity quickly in order for the school system to move ahead. Until that decision, Sarasota Security Patrol Inc. will staff 31 of the district's 33 elementary schools with guards without weapons.
The Palmetto and Holmes Beach police departments provide law enforcement officers, known as school resource officers, at Palmetto and Anna Maria elementaries, the preferable but more expensive way to provide security. Kudos to the PPD for bearing the entire expense, only announced this week.
Mills also stated this Tuesday:
"We believe the Community Security Officers will help our elementary schools in achieving the goal of providing our students and staff with a safer and more secure environment so they can keep their focus on teaching and learning."
Indeed, that is the goal.
In the meantime, we await the attorney general's interpretation of state law. Should the office rule out guns, unarmed guards would be a disappointing setback. And reason for the school board to revisit the issue.