Less than half of St. Johns County schools will have armed deputy on first day

Less than half of the schools in the St. Johns County School District will have an armed deputy on campus on the first day of school.

The district is one of many throughout Florida scrambling to comply with The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

“Oh, yeah man, it’s our kids. So, you want them to be safe at their own schools,” said St. Johns County mother Lacey Otwell.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act requires all Florida schools to have either a sworn law enforcement officer or a “safe-school officer,” which is a school employee that receives high-level firearms training from law enforcement.

St. Johns County School District has 40 schools on 39 campuses.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office already has 15 youth resource deputies patrolling schools.

The Sheriff’s Office is going to hire 16 more youth resource deputies, but superintendent Tim Forson said it could be the middle of the school year before they start patrolling campuses.

That still leaves a gap of eight campuses.

“Quite simply, there’s not enough funding for us to put a deputy sheriff in all 40 schools today,” St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan said.

In the meantime, Forson said the district has hired armed private security to protect campuses that do not have dedicated deputies, although private security does not meet the requirements of the new law.

“It does not fulfill the law. So, the cost of doing that really falls back on the school district. It’s about a $1 million additional cost to make that happen. But I think, as a parent myself, moms and dads, they want to know that there is someone there who is ready to respond should something occur,” Forson said.

Mulligan said roving deputies will be assigned to schools protected by private security.

“There will be a deputy sheriff who will be one of our floaters – or rovers, if you will – who will be assigned to maybe three or four schools,” Mulligan said.

Duval County School Police officers already patrol public middle and high school campuses.
JSO is training what Duval County Public Schools calls "school safety assistants" to patrol public elementary schools.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is going to patrol some Duval County public elementary schools at the beginning of the school year because there won’t be enough school safety assistants trained in time.

Jacksonville charter schools are also scrambling to comply with the new law.

RELATED STORY: Jacksonville charter schools scramble to comply with law requiring armed officers

During a closed-door meeting last week, JSO and charter school leaders agreed on a temporary fix.

JSO said it will provide an armed officer at all Jacksonville charter schools until the Sheriff’s Office can train school employees to take over.