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For Sheriff and Flagler Schools, Clear Accord: No to Arming Teachers, Yes to More Deputies

| March 5, 2018

school safety flagler

Safety math. (© FlaglerLive)

At 11 a.m. Thursday, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and School Superintendent Jim Tager will hold a joint press conference at Buddy Taylor Elementary School to talk about student safety and security in the district’s schools.

The joint appearance underscores the priority the district and the sheriff are placing on school safety and to brief the public on what’s likely to be ahead in terms of visible and some not-so-visible security improvements, pending more clarity on what the Legislature will pay for and what local governments, including the County Commission and the School Board, are willing to pay for. The joint appearance will also follow a closed-door meeting the school board will hold on security at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Government Services Building (a meeting the board is not required to publicly notice or advertise, as it must its open meetings.)

Tager and Staly will not discuss the details of school safety procedures: those have been discussed but will remain undisclosed. But they will discuss several points on Thursday. Those will include the “hardening” of school campuses with more security infrastructure; preventive measures that will be undertaken and that will involve the introduction of new awareness and training or drilling for students and personnel, including a “see something-say something” curriculum, and new safety procedures; and, of particular interest to the community, the subject of additional school resource deputies for campuses and a discussion about arming teachers or other personnel on campus.

Tager and Staly are united on those issues, and they reflect what a majority of school board members believe as well.

The issues come down to this: Yes to more deputies, no to arming teachers or other school personnel.

Superintendent Jim Tager. (© FlaglerLive)

Superintendent Jim Tager. (© FlaglerLive)

Staly and Tager have discussed extending the school deputy program to every school, including the county’s charter and public schools. “The superintendent and I are on the same page,” Staly said. “I think we’re going to recommend that we’d like to see a school resource deputy in every school in Flagler County, including the private schools, we can’t leave them out.” Staly included the district’s two charter schools in the equation as well—Palm Harbor Academy and Imagine School at Town Center. (A student threatened to shoot a teacher and a student at Imagine last week, triggering an investigation: the student said he was joking.)

That would mean doubling the current corps of six school deputies and a supervisor to 15, at a cost of $1.9 million. Staly considers it “feasible” if the cost is split 50-50 between the sheriff and the district, and if the Legislature comes through with recurring money for deputies. The expanded program would then allow for expanding drug education at the elementary level, gang-resistance education in middle schools, and contending with the much larger populations of the two high schools, Staly said, which he compared to small cities with city problems such as domestic violence issues that can spill over to campus.

“As sheriff I’m not worried so much that a terrorist will arrive in Flagler County and do something,” Staly said, “I’m more concerned about a lone wolf and what that trigger point will be. That’s what keeps me up at night and why we take all those threats to schools so seriously,” however expensive the cost of investigating every threat. Staly cited the number of Baker Acts (the involuntary, temporary detention at psychiatric facilities of individuals threatening harm to themselves or others) as an indication of the mental health issues in the community, and the nature of that potential lone wolf.  

Just before 6:30 this evening, the Florida Senate passed a sweeping school-security measure that included a provision allowing for the arming of teachers.

But one thing is clear among Flagler County school officials: there is very little appetite, if any, to arm teachers or school personnel.

But to just say to a teacher, ‘OK you can carry a gun,’ is I think the simplistic way out.

School board members, the superintendent, the principal of the county’s largest school, faculty and students all agree, as does the sheriff: teachers are there to teach. It would be unfair and likely ineffective or unsafe to arm them and burden them with the protection of students and others. That job belongs to school resource officers.

“My personal opinion is the people on campus that should have a weapon would be an SRD or a police officer who’s been through the academy,” Tager said in an interview late last week. “I wouldn’t support anything beyond that, in my personal opinion. I believe it’s a place of learning, and I could see a scenario where it could fall apart going that route.” He cited potential cases of mistaken identity caused by the chaos of an incident, for example, that could lead to the worst endings. “We’re educational institutions and our main focus is learning,” he said. “Teachers are educators. That’s why they went in the profession. If you need to have a police presence on your campus it should be a police officer and or a deputy, period.”

That tracks closely with the sheriff’s view. Staly is not opposed to school personnel being armed under certain circumstances. “However I think it should be the option of the teacher and the administration with concurrence from the superintendent and the district’s school board,” Staly said. “With that said I truly think that their job is to educate our kids and leave the security and the safety to the trained professionals, in my case, the Sheriff’s Office. But to just say to a teacher, ‘OK you can carry a gun,’ is I think the simplistic way out. You have to have significant training, psychologicals, a lot of the stuff we put our deputies through, and let’s face it, teachers want to be educators, they don’t want to be defenders. And my daughter is a teacher. I hear both versions. Here I am a sheriff and I have a daughter who teaches elementary school in Seminole. I think she’d rather just teach and not be concerned about school security. She has enough issues to deal with.”

Tager, who takes a methodical approach to any decision, discussed the issue with Staly, heard from others in the community and from faculty and staff members ahead of the Tuesday closed-door session.

school safety

Safety first. (© FlaglerLive)

Florida law allows closed meetings of government boards as long as the discussion is strictly limited to “the security systems for any property owned by or leased to” the school board, including any information “relating directly to” buildings’ security systems. Board members may not discuss policy or make decisions. They’re not even having Staly join them, as they interpret the law to mean that only they, the superintendent and certain school district employees may be in the room. So even the discussion about guns on campus must be limited to how that pertains to such things as safety plans, evacuations, tactical issues should a school be breached by an active shooter, and so on. Put more concretely, the question of who specifically may be armed may not be discussed openly, but the policy direction as to whether to have additional armed personnel, in general, must be discussed openly.

The closed-door session will be followed by an open, 3 p.m. workshop. Security is not on that agenda. But that doesn’t keep any single board member from bringing up the topic for discussion at the end of the meeting. At least three board members—Chairman Trevor Tucker, Andy Dance and Colleen Conklin—see the matter of guns almost in exact alignment with Tager.

Renewed discussions about arming teachers were fueled by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which left 14 students and three adults dead, and an enthusiastic call two weeks ago by President Trump to give teachers “a little bit of a bonus” to carry guns. The Florida Legislature, now in its session’s waning days, is close to adopting a school-security bill that would give local school boards authority to decide whether to arm certain civilians. Initial proposals had focused on faculty, though by Saturday one proposal extended the possibility to support personnel. House Speaker Richard Corcoran supports the proposal for arming school personnel. Gov. Rick Scott does not.

Tucker isn’t entirely opposed to having teachers armed, but might as well be: he says he’d agree to it only if they were trained cops who’ve gone through the same rigorous training as cops have, and to essentially be “deputized.” But even then, he says, “teachers are there to teach, that’s my take on it. Why should we put it on their back, they already have to do so much that you have to put it on them to defend the school. That doesn’t seem right.”

FPC Principal Dusty Sims. (© FlaglerLive)

FPC Principal Dusty Sims. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County doesn’t have to wait for the Legislature to have permission to arm additional people on campus. But if it did so under current law, Tucker said, it would have to create its own school district police force, as Duval and Palm Beach do. “Is it cost effective? No,” Tucker said. Just as adding metal detectors in schools would not be cost-effective, he said, even though he sees it as a good idea. But metal detectors means delays to get in the school, it means potentially having to lengthen the school day, and would mean having to have additional security personnel at the metal detectors.

Dusty Sims is the principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School. He might as well be its mayor: between the school’s more-than-2,500 students, its 137 teachers and an equal number of support personnel, the school’s population is about that of Bunnell. “We work really hard every day to create a positive culture in our school and I believe that when you put weapons on teachers, that sends a culture that’s not going to be pleasant. We talk about what are the expectations of kids when they walk in a classroom for learning. When they walk in and see a teacher with a weapon on their hip or in their pocket I don’t believe that creates an expectation of learning, it probably creates an expectation of fear, so I would definitely not support that issue. But I do support looking at more SROs, the one SRO per 1,000 students I believe is important. I don’t think that’s necessarily a life-saving device, but maybe a repellant as much as anything. Unless the SRO is right there where they breached the point of entry, I don’t know how much impact they have. But just the knowledge of having those folks on campus is important, and also for the relationships that we’ve seen our SROs build with our kids within our schools has been extremely impactful.”

Sims said there’s also a limit to the hardening of schools, which he considers students’ “home away from home,” he said. “When we start to put up bars, when we start to put in metal detectors, when we start to put police guards everywhere, that’s not home. That’s not a family atmosphere. That’s not an atmosphere that we welcome kids to. If we go to that, we’re going to see students come to school in militant places that are unbecoming to education.”

Andy Dance, the school board member, changed the theme of his latest town hall meeting in western Flagler last week in view of the new concerns about security. “I told them at the early stages of my research that I really didn’t want teachers to have that responsibility, be armed and have that additional responsibility of being trained,” Dance said. “It’s an undue burden to put on teachers. That, and I don’t know how many of them would step up to do that kind of training.”

Cops embracing students: Undersheriff Jack Bisland, left, with FPC Student Government Association Tyler Perry, center, and Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney, in bike-patrol gear. (© FlaglerLive)

Cops embracing students: Undersheriff Jack Bisland, left, with FPC Student Government Association Tyler Perry, center, and Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney, in bike-patrol gear. (© FlaglerLive)

To Board member Colleen Conklin, the notion of arming teachers is an unstudied, “knee-jerk reaction.”

“Nobody has looked into the data,” Conklin said. “And when you have folks often say those who want to take guns away are coming at it with an emotional argument: well, my goodness, putting guns in the hands of a teacher seems to me a very emotional reaction without having any homework being done.”

Many school districts in the nation have armed teachers. But how many, specifically where, with what consequences has not been studied, leaving all the reports anecdotal. And the Centers for Disease Control are forbidden by law (since the 1996 so-called Dickey Amendment) from studying the effects of gun violence. That includes analytical data from campuses where weapons are carried by faculty or staff.

Then there are the students: the reason for the debate. Tyler Perry, the student who last week led a march across the Flagler Beach bridge to call for more deputies in schools and more interpersonal connections on campus as means of warding off violence, spoke of arming teachers during an interview.

“It’s easy for these legislators, probably a lot of them have kids in private school, or they don’t have kids in school at all,” Perry, a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School and president of its Student Government Association, said. “It’s easy for them to think on paper, oh, we get as many good guys with guns, quote-unquote, that’s going to help us. But if you listen to the students, you know that that’s not how we solve the problem.” He described the students as “terrified” of the notion of an armed teacher or “turning our teachers into police officers and by telling our teachers that it’s now their duty to go out and—what, are they going to hunt down a school shooter? There’s so many students at our school that can overpower a teacher. We’re telling the students you don’t even have to bring a gun to school anymore. The gun is already there. You just have to secure it for yourself. So I think the kids are worried about that, and the Legislature ought to listen to the kids.”

Are Flagler County schools safe? The answer is generally a rather confident yes.

“I wouldn’t send my children to school if I didn’t think my children were safe,” Tucker, the school board chairman, said. But he does see vulnerabilities, which he will discuss behind closed doors Tuesday. “I’m not willing to point out to the general public what I see as insecurities at this point in time,” he said. “The public has to have faith that the school board wants safety for our children first.”

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32 Responses for “For Sheriff and Flagler Schools, Clear Accord: No to Arming Teachers, Yes to More Deputies”

  1. John F Pollinger says:

    “No to arming teachers”. At least there is some sanity at the local level.

  2. Rick Kang says:

    LOCKED! LOCKED! LOCKED! So EASY to Keep The School Door LOCKED! What to Common Sense!

  3. Steve Robinson says:

    A resounding NO to arming teachers merits a serious high-five for the sheriff and the school superintendent who are making the correct, brave, and–dare I say it–progressive decision. Anyone who cares deeply about this issue, whether or not you have (or had) kids in the Flagler schools, should make it a point to let Staly and Tager know that they have our full support.

  4. Gkimp says:

    Armed teachers are a bad idea, because responding deputies should engage ANYONE with a gun.

    SRD are good, but not the answer to security.

    School physical safety has to be increased “harden the target” as if there is no SRD on campus. A school shooter should not be able to enter the outer perimeter!

  5. Anonymous says:

    NOOOOOOOOOO…We do not need more cops in the schools. This is a waste!!!!!!! What we have is sufficient. There is no evidence that more is needed. If its not broke, don’t fix it. This is a terrible waste of our tax dollars. There was cops in the school in south Florida that just got shot up and what good did that do? NONE!!!!!!

  6. Just another Parent says:

    I have written to the School Board and the Superintendent asking that they look into the safe rooms that can be built right into each classroom. It serves for multiple uses and protects the children and staff from hurricanes, tornadoes, explosions, fire and shootings. It can be used as a quiet reading area, tutoring area, testing area or conference area yet I have not had any response. I understand they are an expense however I think as a community we can come together, work together to figure out a way to cover the expense if it means giving our children, educators and staff members protection. Also I have noticed with children in elementary, middle school and high school here there is a more lax approach to security at the high school (FPC). It is easy to access the parking lot even though there is a security point, they rarely if ever stop anyone, question anyone or ask for an ID. Then when you enter the front of the building the doors leading toward the old gym and cafeteria are always wide open and not closed or locked so if it is busy at the desk it is quite easy to just slip right past. Other doors to the school and different buildings have also been easily accessible throughout the day. The elementary and middle schools have one access point throughout the day which is the main entrance and you can not get beyond that unless you have shown ID, signed in and then buzzed in. There are gates around the schools which are locked making it so the only point of access is the main entrance. Why have we not taken the same safety precautions and measures with FPC? So along with the safety rooms those issues should be looked into as well. There are other safer options than arming our teachers and they should not have to have that added responsibility and stress so Thank you to Mr. Tager and Sheriff Staly for not wanting to arm our teachers. Our educators are wonderful here and go above and beyond for our children. They help teach, counsel, guide, mold and shape our children into the young men and women they become so it is unfair for anyone to ask them to add more onto their already full plates. As a community we should all be looking into how we can be of help, what solutions we can come up with and how we can work together to help protect our schools, our children, our educators and staff members. They are our future and in order to secure our future we must invest.

  7. Just Sharing some information says:

  8. Ralph Lightfoot says:

    This is a great opportunity to bring back Deputy Calvin Grant, who recently retired, he is familiar with Flagler Palm Coast High School and the students. He was the Resource Officer at Flagler Palm Coast.

  9. ConstantlyAmazed says:

    More security is great however as we have seen so many times in the past you can have all the security measures imaginable if it is not used properly or ignored it’s useless it becomes another “ dog & pony” show.

  10. reality check says:

    there are numerous retired officers in flagler that still remain qualiified to carry a weapon. just like the fire police ask for volunteers. deputize them, give them a uniform however, with no arrest powers. this would be a no cost option.

  11. Richard says:

    Let teachers BE teachers while in school! If they happen to have a C&C then they should be allowed to have it while on campus. It is TOTALLY ridiculous to think that the state is going to educate every teacher in the proper use and safety of owning a handgun. Let the LEO’s who are trained in the use of weapons be inside the schools protecting the children. Also each and ever school should have the same type of security as our airports and government buildings. Like one father has stated “you can’t bring a small bottle of water onto a plane but anyone can bring multiple weapons into a school”. Something is DRASTICALLY wrong with THAT picture. 200+ school shootings……how many airplane or government building shootings have there been?

  12. Rosie O'Donnell says:

    Arming our teachers is a cost effective way to handle the problem. Why is government’s solution always more government? just askin’

  13. Sherry says:

    @ Rosie. . . think this through. If the police are called to a shooting, when they arrive and see a person with a gun, how in the world are they to know whether that person is a TEACHER protecting the children?

    Also, teachers are not trained and paid enough to take on the responsibility of policing a school. If we start paying the “real” price of such a professional. . . it certainly would NOT be cost effective.

  14. Sherry says:

    @ Rosie. . . also, teachers are not trained and paid enough to take on the responsibility of policing a school. If we start paying the “real” price of such a professional. . . it certainly would NOT be cost effective.

  15. Sherry says:

    What we need to do is start with a complete federal BAN on automatic and semi-automatic weapons that that ammunition!

  16. Joe says:

    School safety is a huge concern to all, but why does it seem like Flagler seems to be behind the 8 ball with this issue? After Columbine and Sandy Hook you would think that a concerned district would have already had adaquit measures in place. In 2004 every school in the district had an SRO, why did that change? Finances should not be the problem being that administration and teachers salaries range within the top 10 in the state. My concern with having faith in the school board is if child safety was a priority, then measures would already be in place, why are they not is my question!

  17. r&r says:

    Is Rosie the same Rosie, that along with Whoopie said they would leave the country if Trump was elected?

  18. palmcoaster says:

    Sherry you are correct. Ban on assault weapons!! And stricter background checks.
    Teachers are to teach not armed guards. I agree with sheriff Staly given the only choice he has until we get Gun Control working.

  19. HonkeyDude says:

    @reality check….. What reality do you live in???
    Actually you might be on to something. Since there are so many retired people who are in the community we could put everone to work for no pay. All retired who are non leo, could make human chains around the schools, serve meals, hall monitors, bus duty etc etc leo to save money. No pay no right and no authority. We could keep our schools safe with 90 yr old crossing guards armed with bed pans and walkers. Lets rename the schools to hospice high. We can save money and lives.

  20. Trailer Bob says:

    Ban on semi-automatic weapons??? Really dude? Semi auto simply means you have to pull the trigger each time you want to fire a shot. There are millions of armed citizens and extremely low rates of death by guns when you look at the totality of us with guns. Calm down…Put police in schools…simple, just like in banks and shopping centers. Now lets move on and talk about opioids and deaths.

  21. Pogo says:


    Of course you and Sherry are correct. You have to wonder how much longer a majority of voters will continue to defer addressing all manner of pressing needs in order to further fund defenses against threats that need not exist in the first place.

    After this latest round of enormous expense – what will have been gained? The world we live in will still be lousy with rifles that kill from a thousand feet away. Will school bus stops, school buses, and school athletic fields somehow be “hardened” too? Not to mention our homes and every other place in the world!

    Is there another country on the face of this planet where anyone is selling the nonsense being peddled by the NRepublicansA running this state and this country?

    Vote them out.

  22. Bob Z. says:

    Hire Vets with an armed Florida Security License, which would cost a lot less than a Deputy and support those that have supported us.

  23. Steve Robinson says:

    Seriously?!? “Extremely low rates of death by guns”??? The only reason it seems that way to you is that gun deaths, if there are fewer than three people shot and killed at once, barely even merit news coverage. Accidental shootings, suicides, murders by gun every single day, day in and day out. Look it up!

  24. Dave says:

    The deputies added to the schools should not be armed , teachers should not be armed , ours schools should remain GUN FREE ZONES

  25. Motherworry says:

    I get the idea of more cops in the schools. Glad they decided not to arm the teachers. But a fire fight could very well happen in the classroom and corridors.
    Why not set up a pass through door detector for everybody or a thing like at the air port screening.

    I suppose that after all the preventative measures are taken the sicko’s will move to the malls. Bottom line imo is the guns have to be removed from the equation.

  26. palmcoaster says:

    Your are right Pogo only solution to current legislators state and federal in the side of the NRA, is:

  27. Really says:

    Thats not what the FL Legislature says

  28. Really says:

    Yeah POGO back w/ more Govt oversight conspriacy theory rhetoric Guns dont kill sick people do

  29. capt says:

    We get rid of guns, people that want to harm people will find a way. We live in such a screwed up society these days with so much hate and bigotry against a persons religion , sexual preference and add to that the issues with drugs well its just a bomb that will continue to explode each day. Such a sad state of affairs.

  30. Sherry says:

    What? Nothing more than another load of NRA “Talking points”! That means there is NO reasonable, logical reason to stop gun “safety” regulations.

    Yes. . . our society is filled with the mentally ill, and HATERS of all kinds. So, what is so terribly wrong with making it harder for such people to own and use weapons of mass destruction?

    Take your brains back and THINK independently. VOTE OUT every politician who does nothing to stop the terrible, terrible carnage!

  31. Diane says:

    Before the assault weapon made it to the school . So many Red flags were over looked . Where is our outrage with all that allowed this damaged soul to get to this tragedy. Maybe banning assault weapons will help…. there are many things that are illegal… but that does not stop someone from getting or doing something illegal.

  32. Shark says:

    The NRA owns the republican party !!!!

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