Friday, April 13, 2018
Majority of Brevard school board members favor marshal program, despite sheriff’s new call to hold o
Caroline Glenn | FLORIDA TODAY Apr. 11, 2018
Brevard Sheriff withdraws pitch to arm school staff
In a surprising move, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey has pulled his proposal to train and arm school personnel. Video by Rob Landers. Posted April 11, 2018.
A majority of Brevard County School Board members on Wednesday said they support arming school staff despite a surprise call this week by Sheriff Wayne Ivey that perhaps it would be better to drop the program he devised.
After Ivey informed FLORIDA TODAY Tuesday that he had recommended the School Board table the controversial marshal program — known as Sheriff-trained Onsite Marshal Program, or S.T.O.M.P. — a majority of School Board members said Wednesday that they intend to continue to push for arming school personnel.
"It concerns me greatly," School Board Vice Chair Tina Descovich said of Ivey's new recommendation. "I'm concerned because I believe we need the guardian program to keep our students safe."
Ivey said he is concerned the fierce debate that has erupted in Brevard County over the marshal program has overshadowed the more important conversation about getting school resource officers on every campus, and that the window of opportunity to train marshals is fast closing. Superintendent Desmond Blackburn said he agreed with Ivey's position.
Regardless of Ivey's stance, the new law that was passed in response to the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High calls for a either an armed marshal or SRO on every campus but leaves the decision up to local school boards.
School Board Vice Chair Descovich and board members Matt Susin and Andy Ziegler said they support the program and will move to start gathering community feedback at next Tuesday's School Board meeting.
Susin said he was "leaning toward acceptance" because of what he said were pleas from his administration staff and secretaries, "allow us to be armed."
During his time as a teacher, Susin said he experienced several school lock-downs, which is part of the reason he supports instituting a marshal program.
"The fear of locking down for multiple hours, not knowing what's going on — there are teachers who would rather be armed and not be sitting ducks," Susin said. "That feeling is why I guess it resonates with me when someone in the front office says, 'I don’t want to be a sitting duck, please can I be armed?'"
Ziegler also said he believes a marshal program would add an additional level of security to school campuses.
All three board members who spoke in favor of the program said they would like to have SROs on every campus but the district doesn't have the money to do that. Based on estimates from Ivey and the district's chief financial officer, the school board is wrestling with a $5 million deficit to pay for SROs.
"We’re going to try to out an SRO in every school, but the time period that that takes makes us vulnerable," Susin said. Without the marshal program, "we're going to have months and months and months of no armed security at these schools."
School Board Chair John Craig and board member Misty Belford did not return multiple requests for comment. The School Board would need a 3-2 vote to green light arming school staff.
The sheriff's new position came as somewhat of a surprise, although board members said Ivey had expressed his concerns to them in the past.
However, just last week, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office posted a video on its official Facebook page of Ivey promoting the program and telling critics who want to insert gun politics into the conversation to "stop it."
When Ivey first presented S.T.O.M.P. — one aspect of a plan that also includes active-shooter training, building upgrades, programs at the district's alternative learning centers and hiring more SROs — he said, "I believe in my heart, in my 39 years of experience, that this is the best thing to do to protect our students."
Ivey said he still believes arming school staff is a crucial component to school security. He will pursue implementing the program in Brevard at another time.
The new law, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, mandates districts put either an SRO on every school campus or a school employee who has been trained through the marshal program. Districts have until the beginning of next school year to get personnel in place.
Sheriff Ivey and the Brevard School Board members say they are facing a time crunch and financial shortfalls to pursue either option.
"With the summer right on us, that’s creating pressure," Ziegler said. "If we were in November or December, we'd have lots of time to figure this out."
The School Board has met four times behind closed doors to discuss school security since the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14, but has yet to discuss the subject at a public meeting. Meanwhile, residents have organized forums and come out to board meetings to voice their concerns.
District staff are expected to present details about school security and mental health resources to the board at Tuesday's meeting. Board members who support the marshal program have said they will also request the district start to gather community input at a series of forums around the county and through online surveys.
The School Board is expected to make a final decision whether to arm school staff at their May 8 meeting.
"If we're going to do this, we have to have a vote by May 8," Susin said, adding he fears there may not be many volunteers because of the late notice.
If the School Board rejects his newest proposal to table the marshal program and ultimately votes to adopt it, Ivey said he would be "absolutely willing and able" to provide the necessary training. However, he said that waiting much longer to make a decision "puts us behind the eight ball."
Through his S.T.O.M.P. program, school staff who volunteer would have to go through 176 hours of training during the summer, on top of psychological screenings, interviews, background checks and drug tests.
The training, which would take about five weeks, would include:
80 hours of firearms training
24 hours of tactical automatic pistol training via firing range and simulator
24 hours of active shooter training, including first aid and CPR
16 hours of defensive tactics training, including firearms retention
12 hours of legal issues training
12 hours of diversity training
8 hours of mental health training
On a quarterly basis, marshals would head to the sheriff's gun range and receive in-service training on legal issues, firearm proficiency, self-defense and survival tactics.
Annual recertification would require 16 hours of training.
Caroline Glenn is the education reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-576-5933, or follow her on Twitter @bycarolineglenn and like "Education at Florida Today" on Facebook.