Education

How will Manatee ensure the safety of its schools? This served as a test run.

Hundreds take on active shooter training at Bayshore High

The Manatee Sheriff's Office and Bradenton Police Department used blank ammunition and mock explosives to assess how 200 school administrators would respond to an active shooter situation.
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The Manatee Sheriff's Office and Bradenton Police Department used blank ammunition and mock explosives to assess how 200 school administrators would respond to an active shooter situation.

Run, hide or fight.

Manatee County sheriff's deputies and Bradenton police officers shot blank ammunition and detonated mock explosives at Bayshore High School during active shooter training on Wednesday. About 200 administrators with the School District of Manatee County learned their strengths and weaknesses as they responded to a seemingly real attack.

Unless something changes in the next two months, guardians — armed security officers without law enforcement authority — are expected to join deputies and police officers in protecting campuses during the 2018-19 school year.

Superintendent Diana Greene said the incoming guardians will receive active shooter training every nine weeks, as required by law, but not the kind of instruction that took place on Wednesday.

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The Manatee County School Board and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office conducted an active shooter drill at Bayshore High Wednesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Such drills, which often include the use of blank ammunition and a collaboration between multiple agencies, are separate from the regular training that deputies and schools receive. The last full-scale training took place at Braden River High School in August 2014.

In 2007, the sheriff's office started to require active shooter training for its members. The office will also be responsible for assessing and training possible guardians

Lt. Andy Ramdath said deputies are cognizant of the Valentine's Day massacre at a high school in Parkland, which left 17 people dead and more than a dozen injured, and how a Broward County sheriff's deputy was later admonished for not confronting the shooter.

"We signed up to basically give our life for the innocent and sometimes not innocent persons," Ramdath said. "So, our response is that there's no hesitation."

After the Parkland shooting, Manatee school board members approved nearly $598,000 to put an officer in every school through the 2017-18 school year. The board was adamant that law enforcement officers should be the only people to guard district schools.

The massacre also resulted in an unfunded mandate from the state, requiring that every school be guarded in the future. Deputies and officers that existed before the mandate will remain with financial support from the county and possible support from several police departments.

However, after the county refused to help with the cost of adding and maintaining extra deputies, the district moved forward with hiring school guardians.

The district recently posted a request for guardian applications to its website. Guardians are required to have a high school diploma, and experience or training in the security industry is preferred. The job description, which is still pending school board approval, said guardians will make about $20 to $33 an hour.

Guardians are established through the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after the football coach who died while trying to protect students in Parkland. The program allows schools to hire armed security personnel who receive about 140 hours of training from the sheriff's department.

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The Manatee County School Board and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office conducted an active shooter drill at Bayshore High Wednesday. Provided photo

School board member Scott Hopes, impressed with the deputies' performance on Wednesday, said he would speak with Sheriff Rick Wells on Friday.

Hopes wants to discuss "how we can work closer to ensuring that we have the appropriate personnel in all of our schools when we start back in August."

He called the district's regular training "rigorous." Regardless of whether it be law enforcement officers or guardians, the schools' protectors will train in situational awareness and responding to an active shooter. The district also conducts regular lockdown drills for its administrators, faculty and students.

Though, Hopes said, nothing compares to training under the sound of live gunfire.

"It's hard to read a policy or a standard operating procedure and know how you're going to react," he said. "But when that sound is going off right outside your classroom, this provided our principals and other leaders the opportunity to feel it, to sense it and emotionally get engaged."

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