BRADENTON -- Nearly a week after private security guards began patrolling its elementary schools, the Manatee County School District asked the Florida Attorney General's Office to rule on whether its plan to arm the guards is legal.
The official request was sent Tuesday, Superintendent Rick Mills said during a Manatee County School Board meeting. The district's request was released Wednesday after the AG's office acknowledged receipt of the message.
"We thank you for your time, and for your careful deliberation of this important issue," Mills wrote in a two-page letter asking Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to look at the issue. "We look forward to receiving your response with great anticipation."
The document includes a 10-page legal memorandum signed by district staff attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum explaining the district's interpretation of Florida Statute 790.115. The statute states people are not allowed to possess or discharge weapons at a school-sponsored event or on school property unless authorized in support of school-sanctioned activities. "This is one of the enumerated 'school-sanctioned activities' and a 'school-sponsored event' with the meaning of Florida Statute 790.115," Teitelbaum argues in his report.
In the conclusion, Teitelbaum writes the board should be recognized for its boldness in ratifying and
approving the security contract and taking a proactive step to prevent harm.
"Given that there is no statutory or other limitation by law, there is no statutory prohibition against having a duly licensed private armed security company to provide security services within our great schools," Teitelbaum wrote.
On Sept. 16, the day before the armed guards from Sarasota Security Patrol were set to patrol district schools, Mills announced the officers would begin without weapons while the district explored the legality of carrying them. The district's attorney and outside counsel said nothing in state statute would prohibit this type of program, but district officials wanted to err on the side of caution.
"We sent the letter to the attorney general to get the opinion regarding the CSOs (community security officers) being armed so we will have no questions of any legality," Mills said Tuesday night during a school board meeting.
The discussion around the controversial topic continued Tuesday night with a number of community members speaking before the board, prompting a discussion at the board level. No formal action was taken, but board members said they wanted to continue to monitor the program's rollout.
Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner unsuccessfully asked his fellow board members to reconsider the contract. "What I'm asking the board tonight to do is to take steps to go forward," Miner said Tuesday. "This event has taken us backward."
Other board members heralded the program and board chairwoman Julie Aranibar read a testimonial submitted by a principal.
"No one here wanted to make a decision to cause disruption or hurt anyone," Aranibar said. "But we see a need and we tried to respond to that need."
Mills said Tuesday he had met with local law enforcement officials for lunch to discuss the issue of security in the elementary schools and he hopes to bring new ideas or possibilities for safety and security to the board in the spring.
"We want to work collaboratively with them," Mills said.
The district has also asked internal auditors, Shinn & Co., to more quickly audit the Purchasing Department after issues about the security officers were brought out. One of the issues was the process the district used to award the contract and whether it was rushed and improper.
Internal auditors will begin working immediately, Neil Unruh, an audit partner from Shinn & Co. told the board Tuesday.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.