New program aimed to keep students safe

Sheriff Russ Gibson

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

Retired law enforcement officers may soon be called on to help improve safety measures at Osceola County schools.

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland on Valentine’s Day, school districts across the state are looking at

ways to make educational institutes safer.

Ideas ranging from metal detectors to arming teachers have been tossed into the public sphere as

Sheriff Russ Gibson

possible solutions.

Last week, Osceola County School District officials met with local law enforcement to brainstorm ideas.

At Monday’s County Commission meeting, Sheriff Russ Gibson shared highlights from that closed-door meeting with the board.

Gibson balked at the notion of arming educators. He asserted that giving guns to teachers, even after 132 hours of training, is the wrong thing to do.

“I’m dead set against it,” the sheriff said. “Teachers train all the time to be nurturers and educators … and for a $500 stipend, they’re going to be armed security guards? That’s not going to happen in Osceola County.”

In line with a plan proposed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, local officials want to place a security resource officer (SRO) at every Osceola County school and two at every high school. That would mean hiring at least 19 additional officers.

The county is willing to create a budget amendment to allow for the new hires before the new school year begins.

The issue though, said Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, is a lack of available trained law enforcement officers.

Two major solutions to this problem were discussed. Recruiting recently retired officers as SROs was one option.

“I reached out to the governor and other people at the state, asking them to waive their [officers’] retirement,” Hawkins said. “Allow someone to keep their retirement, but if they want to come back for a paycheck to be one of these resource officers, they should allow that and not hurt that person’s retirement.”

The other option, which is already underway, is vetting parents through the Sheriff’s Office and the district’s OASIS volunteer program so that adults can serve as “eyes and ears” for teachers and SROs.

Gibson said individuals could apply to become safety volunteers by signing up at osceolasheriff.org. The vetting and background check process takes about a month and a half to complete.

After getting the green light, safety volunteers would keep an eye out for suspicious and potentially dangerous behavior on morning and afternoon shifts.

“This is an idea we’ve come up with since Feb. 14,” Gibson said. “To me, that’s a better idea than arming our teachers, by letting our SROs who are qualified to handle those firearms do their jobs, and letting volunteers assist them by saying something if you see something.”