Parents sue Duval County Public Schools over armed school safety assistants

Southside, Jacksonville

A new lawsuit claims the armed school safety assistants that Duval County Public Schools have been adding to elementary schools are “inadequately trained.”

A group of elementary school parents and the League of Women Voters of Florida filed the lawsuit on Thursday morning.

To comply with the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, DCPS began hiring school safety assistants over the summer.

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The school safety assistants all go through JSO firearms training.

The lawsuit claims the school district is violating a Florida law that only allows sworn law enforcement officers to carry guns on campus.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office confirmed DCPS school safety assistants are not sworn law enforcement officers.

The lawsuit acknowledges that the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act says guardians must get specific firearms training, but argues it “does not actually authorize guardians to carry guns in schools.”

“I have no problem with it. As long as he’s trained, armed, he knows what he’s doing.” said Fred Waters, a father of two elementary school students in Deerwood.

Duval County mother Reanna Fender said she would feel safer with a sworn law enforcement officer on campus.

“Yes, an officer, for sure,” said Fender.

The lawsuit argues that school safety assistants at Duval County elementary schools would be safer if they were not armed because they are “inadequately trained.”

Action News Jax confirmed with JSO the school safety assistants are required to pass their firearms training with 85 percent accuracy.

That’s the same pass rate as law enforcement firearms instructors.

It’s 5 percent higher than what’s required for patrol officers to pass – 80 percent.

“I feel safe with it being armed security there. I think every parent would feel safe. We’re not there to protect our kids, so at least we can have some kind of line of defense there,” said Waters.

According to JSO, DCPS sent the agency 218 people to train as school safety assistants.

Out of that group, 123 were eliminated or withdrew before class began.

During training, 58 were eliminated.

Only 37 people completed training.

There are currently 20 who are training to become school safety assistants.

DCPS spokesperson Tracy Pierce said he could not answer any of Action News Jax’s questions about school safety assistants because of the lawsuit.

These are the requirements listed on DCPS’ website for school safety assistants:

Must submit to and pass an initial drug test and subsequent random screenings
Must pass a psychological evaluation    [endif]80 hours of firearms training
16 hours of instruction in precision pistol
8 hours of discretionary shooting instruction using approved simulator exercises
8 hours of instruction in defensive tactics
8 hours of instruction in active shooter or assailant scenarios
12 hours of instruction in legal issues
Must successfully complete annual ongoing trainings, in weapons inspection and firearm qualifications
Must complete at least 12 hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training program

The job pays $12.50 an hour.