Bradenton charter school adds guard after sheriff complains it was breaking the law

Students at the Rowlett public charter school in Bradenton saw an increase in school security on Monday, after school officials agreed to add an additional deputy to ensure both campuses had full-time security in compliance with state law. The law was adopted last year after the school massacre in Parkland.

Up until Friday, the Rowlett charter school had only one off-duty deputy to protect both of its campuses but claimed it was in compliance with the state law. Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells confirmed that the charter school was not in compliance after the Bradenton Herald uncovered the the possible violation late last week.

“Rowlett now has a deputy on both of its campuses,” Wells said on Monday morning.

Rowlett Magnet Elementary School is located at 3500 Ninth St. E., Bradenton, and Rowlett Middle Academy is about a mile away, at 400 30th Ave. W.

The decision came over the weekend, despite the school’s administration posting a message on its website Friday insisting to parents that they were in compliance with the state law. It appears that message has since been deleted, and a new message took its place on Monday morning.

“Starting Monday, February 11, each campus will continue with a full time Sheriff’s Deputy to provide security while we work with the State to provide answers to our additional questions,” it read.

Principal Jamara Clark said the school employed a second-off duty deputy, though it’s still looking for clarification on the law. The principal said he added security at the recommendation of Wells.

Clark said he feels lawmakers should work to clarify the law and to better fund security at Florida’s public schools.

“We are still seeking clarification,” the principal said. “Until we get final answers from the state and the sheriff’s department, we’ll follow the recommendation.”

Wells took a firm stance on the issue last week, calling the school’s practice a violation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act. The sheriff said he received confirmation from Damien Kelly, director for the Office of Safe Schools at the Florida Department of Education.

Signed about three weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, the Stoneman Douglas law requires every public school to have “one or more safe-school officers at each school facility within the district.”

The sheriff said he previously warned Rowlett about its use of one deputy for two campuses, a statement the principal has since disputed. Clark said the potential violation was brought to his attention after an inquiry by the newspaper.

“I’ll be reaching out to Sheriff Wells and telling him thank you for doing that and supporting us,” Clark said.

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Giuseppe Sabella, education reporter for the Bradenton Herald, holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He spent time at the Independent Florida Alligator, the Gainesville Sun and the Florida Times-Union. His coverage of education in Manatee County earned him a first place prize in the Florida Society of News Editors’ 2019 Journalism Contest. Giuseppe also spent one year in Charleston, W.Va., earning a first-place award for investigative reporting.