Polk County School Board may vote on plan to use armed guards to secure schools

LAKELAND, Fla. — Armed guards or school resource officers?

It is the newest debate going on right now at the Polk County School District.

In an effort to meeting state requirements for security, while not overspending, the district is looking at armed guards.

“It’s a heartache, it’s a heartache,” said Stacey Ellison, who is a mother to a 17-year-old at Kathleen High School in Lakeland.

Every day he comes home, Stacey considers it a miracle.

“Everyday, see if the kids are going to be alright if they are going to come home,” Ellison said it’s a sad situation to think of the horrible things that could be happening during the day at school.

She wishes that he could just get an education in peace.

That is the goal of the Polk County Schools District, too.

Schools are one step closer to tighter security. New state laws mandate each campus has at least one officer or guardian.

To meet the statute, Polk County needs to hire at least 85 more school resource officers to become compliant. 

Hiring that many more SROs though could cost the district millions of dollars.

“Whatever it takes, if it’s less on them, more in them it’s not really my concern,” Ellison says she’s not worried about the cost, as long as her son is safe.

The school board is currently working with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. The district is leaning towards using armed guards or guardians.

Staff hired would go through the sheriff’s guardian program to protect schools. That would keep guns out of teachers hands and more money in the district’s pocket.

“I don’t want no innocent kid dying because of a man or woman that is supposed to be qualified made a mistake,” John Workman Jr, says the cost doesn’t bother him either but would want armed guards who have significant training.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the program would enforce 144 hours of specialized training, background checks, psychological exams and long training hours for shooting.

The training would cost roughly $3,000 per guardian and a salary or paid time, on top of that.

“Is the armed security officer going to be able to stop the kid with the gun from coming in the school?” Ellison asked. 

That is a question no one can answer until the time comes.

The guardians or armed guards would not have arresting powers like SROs currently have.

The Polk County School Board plants to discuss and may vote on the School Safety Guardian Program at its meeting on April 24. The meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. in the School Board Auditorium at 1915 South Floral Avenue in Bartow.

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