Fifteen guardians in bright yellow polo shirts and bullet-resistant vests marched onto the field to learn how to do their only job: Defend schools from a mass shooter.
At the shouted command, they drew their 9mm Glock pistols and shot from the hip at close range. First with their right hands, then their lefts. They shot at multiple targets, then retreated to the shade at Markham Park to guzzle Powerade.
The Broward County School Board preferred to staff its elementary schools with sworn law-enforcement officers, who already staff middle and high schools, but hired non-sworn personnel in the face of a funding shortfall, a hiring shortage, and a looming deadline.
“These aren’t just average civilians that we put here,” Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie, surrounded by shell casings, told reporters at the shooting range Monday. “This is what I call refresher training for a lot of these individuals.”
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Not much is publicly known about the guardians, a cheaper and more accessible option to fulfill a new statewide mandate that requires putting an armed guard at every school and was set forth by the Florida Legislature after a former student shot and killed 17 people and wounded 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland on Feb. 14.
Their only job at schools is to secure the perimeter, not deal with disciplinary matters. Their uniforms and weapons, which are the 9mm Glocks that they practiced with, will be supplied by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Their salaries range from about $25,000 to $32,000 a year.
The first group of guardians at the target range Monday was already down one member after a resignation, leaving 16. Another guardian was excused from class for an appointment. From a distance — reporters didn’t get a close look at the guardians — they appear to be mostly middle-aged. At least one guardian appeared to be a woman.
Runcie said he did not have specifics on the guardians or their backgrounds but said they either have law-enforcement or military experience of at least two years in the past 10 years.
The guardians — who have gone through background checks, drug tests, and psychological evaluations — will wrap up their training next week. Their preparation includes 12 additionally mandated hours of diversity training.
Another group of 30 guardians will begin training next week, inching closer to staffing 55 schools by the start of school on Aug. 15. In the short-term, the school district will look to staffing off-duty officers or paying overtime.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said he created a coverage plan to assign deputies who are not currently working on a case to visit schools 45 minutes before school starts and 45 minutes after dismissal. He also said he spoke to about 40 soldiers at the National Guard’s headquarters in Miramar to try to recruit them to be guardians at schools.
“I can assure you that nobody’s going to perform perfectly, but the fact that we’re having guardians in the schools makes us safer from day one than we would be without anything at all,” Israel said.