Manatee County’s newest school safety guardians received an education on the dangers of misusing social media.
Though the district previously reviewed applicants’ social media accounts, and though it trained potential guardians on responsible social networking, district attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum said both efforts were recently bolstered.
“You are constantly in the spotlight as a guardian,” he said. “They are role models, and they are being held to the highest standard.”
District officials recently fired a school guardian after the Bradenton Herald reported on his questionable Facebook posts. John Cinque supported two anti-government groups, deemed radical by civil rights organizations, and he advocated for violence against the people in his conspiracy theories.
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Background checks, drug screenings and psychological evaluations are parts of the district’s screening process. Potential guardians then face 144 hours of training through the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
On Friday, exactly seven months after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, 14 men and women filled the school board chambers in Manatee County to accept their role as guardians.
The new guardians — armed security officers without law enforcement authority — will enter schools on Monday, allowing off-duty sheriff’s deputies to refocus on the needs of their strained department.
Thirty-one guardians and two supervisors are in place, and another seven guardians are expected to go through training — one for a high school, and six “floaters” for backup.
Billy “Tank” Tutko accepted his certificate at Friday ceremony. Shortly after graduating from Manatee High School in 1997, he joined the U.S. Navy and provided medical support to Marines in Kosovo, Africa and Iraq.
He teaches safe gun use through his company, Tutko Tactical Training, and he competes as a precision shooter and powerlifter.
“Protecting students and staff. ...What’s better than that?” he said.
Gov. Rick Scott established the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program when he signed Senate Bill 7026 into law on March 9. Named after a football coach who died while protecting students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the program gives school districts an option to choose between law enforcement officers and guardians.
An officer is required at every elementary, middle and high school under the new law. Much like school districts throughout the state, Manatee established a guardian program when faced with funding issues and a shortage of available law enforcement officers.
A total of 38 guardians and two supervisors should be in place by Oct. 15. Schools not protected by a guardian are secured by sheriff’s deputies, along with officers from the Bradenton, Palmetto and Holmes Beach police departments.
Scott Hopes, the school board chairman, previously said he wanted law enforcement officers to be the district’s primary security. Guardians would serve alongside the officers, or the guardians would become deputies and police officers through further training.
Florida’s governor recently tried to divert $58 million from the state’s guardian program to its school districts, but legislators have denied the request.
Thankfully, Hopes said, a majority of Manatee’s guardians are retired law enforcement officers or military veterans. Reading from a speech at Friday’s ceremony, he offered some parting advice.
“Be diligent,” Hopes said. “Become part of your school’s community and culture. Understand its operating rhythm. Learn what is normal in order to recognize what and whom does not belong. And always be prepared to go into action.”