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Sheriff and Superintendent Pledge to Double School Deputies as They Outline New Normal
Of Campus Security

| March 8, 2018

Superintendent JiM Tager at today's news conference at Buddy Taylor Middle School. He recurringly returned the focus on students. (© FlaglerLive)

Superintendent Jim Tager at today’s news conference at Buddy Taylor Middle School. He recurringly returned the focus on students. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County school district and the Sheriff’s Office are committed to doubling school resource officers to 13, increasing the number of school psychologists to at least one per school, increasing the number of social workers in schools, further “hardening” school security where necessary, requiring active-shooter training for all faculty and students, and focusing on “restorative” means to address problem students without expelling them or jeopardizing the security of the rest of the student body.

The initiatives are compelled by renewed emphasis on school security following the February 14 massacre of 14 students and the adults at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. They are a reflection of the apparent consensus the school board reached during a closed-door meeting on security Tuesday.

Just as notably, the initiatives are a reflection of an emerging and unexpected alliance between Superintendent Jim Tager and Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly—one a holistic, student-centered administrator who bristles at the notion of schools as armed camps, the other a tough-talking law and order sheriff who openly threatens to kill assailants and heralds his deputies’ arsenal of A.R.15’s, the assault rifle most favored by school shooters. But both leaders are also pragmatists, and together Thursday they presented a united, tempered front that seeks to combine an uncompromising if reasonable approach to schools safety without abandoning the human element of paying attention to students with mental health issues beyond merely disciplining or punishing them.

Tager and Staly spoke in the context of an 11 a.m. news conference on school security at Buddy Taylor Middle School today, and in the presence of School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker and two other school board members, along with every police chief and many of Staly’s commanders—and Flagler Palm Coast High’s Tyler Perry and Alyssa Santore, and Matanzas High’s Kelsey Sweeney, who have been planning student events honoring the 17 students and adults killed in Parkland. Tager, characteristically, singled out the students for their efforts.  

There was something surreal about the news conference setting, in a middle school library, when superimposed on its theme and subject matters. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

There was something surreal about the news conference setting, in a middle school library, when superimposed on its theme and subject matters. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Most of what Staly and Tager said has been reported here in the past week, though the surreal nature of the news conference was a story in itself: a sheriff and a superintendent in a middle school library, speaking of security measures, of weaponry, of killing and of drills previously associated with more militarized or violent urban settings, with more law enforcement officers than reporters in the room, and not a single middle school student present. The discordance reflected how the frequency and devastation of school shootings have transformed school settings, making a news conference like today’s, in a school library—after all participants had to go through an ID check and clearance as rigorous as at any airport terminal–seem not only normal, but unremarkable: Staly and Tager did not remark on the strangeness of the news conference. They were merely summarizing what will be routine policy from now on.

Tager spoke favorably of Gov. Rick Scott’s and the Legislature’s push for more security and mental health dollars. But Tager also recalled how in 2013, Flagler County voters in a referendum rejected raising their property taxes modestly (roughly 2 percent on a typical tax bill). The proposal would have added a deputy in every school and re-extended the school day by 45 minutes, after it was cut during the Great Recession.

“Voters rejected the referendum,” Tager said, “so Flagler schools made as many updates as fiscally available to protect our students. After Sandy Hook we routinely practiced emergency drills ranging from fire and tornado to active-shooter scenarios throughout the school year. We retrofitted the majority of our campuses as is the one that you walked on today to single-entry systems, to include automatic locking door. I can tell you that they checked my license when I walked through the door today. I’m not sure I got it back yet, but they took it.”

Of greatest interest to the public are the matters of additional school resource deputies and the possibility of armed faculty or other personnel in schools. Tager and Staly addressed both.

There are currently six school resource deputies. “We will increase that to 13,” Tager said. “We want one at each of our elementary and middle schools and two at our high schools. We need a supervisor and a floater. A floater would fill in if any of our sheriffs are having training.” Both middle schools sit adjacent to elementary schools. In essence, a second resource deputy can be at either the elementary or the middle school in minutes. “We feel like we have to make that happen for our students,” Tager said.

School district spokesman Jason Wheeler, left, aside, there were almost as many law enforcement officers in attendance as reporters. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

School district spokesman Jason Wheeler, left, aside, there were almost as many law enforcement officers in attendance as reporters. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Each school deputy costs roughly $100,000. The 13 would add significant costs to the district and the sheriff’s budget. Tager said it will require combining additional funds from the Legislature along with requests from the school board and the county commission, which funds the sheriff’s budget. Staly also wants the burden to be shared equally between his and the school’s budget (and with Palm Coast continuing to assume the cost of one deputy.)  Tager said that’s the norm, and may be the way to go in the future.

Regarding other security measures, single-point entry systems will be hardened, door locks and fencing improved, and a vulnerability study will be conducted with the Department of Homeland Security, which will do unannounced visits to test the schools’ vulnerabilities. “We will mandate active-shooter training in conjunction with Sheriff Staly for all of our employees and students,” Tager said. “High school students will receive the same active shooter training as our employees. They are young adults, we want them to receive the same training. Middle and elementary students will receive age-appropriate active-shooter training.”

More broadly speaking, Tager and Tucker, the chairman of the school board, have been talking about various options to address the security of students during sports activities after school, when they are in the open. Canvassing fences, creating more tree lines and other basic solutions have been discussed. But Tager in an interview after the news conference cautioned against going down the route of safe rooms and metal detectors. “I don’t want it to look like a prison. Nobody does,” he said.

He also detailed the district’s plan for mental health services.

Currently there are eight school psychologists for nine schools. One will be added. “Could we use more at our bigger schools? Yes, probably,” Tager said, seeing some logic to addressing the ratio of psychologists to students in the same way that the one-deputy-per-thousand-students is being addressed now.

The district got a $700,000 grant providing for an additional social worker. But Tager said more attention to the mental health component of some problem students is key: that’s the case with the sixth grader involved in Wednesday’s incident at Bunnell Elementary, a known problem child who’d been expelled for the day and had returned in the afternoon, riding his bike and possibly brandishing a weapon. He’s been arrested, and is facing an aggravated assault charge.

“We’re looking to hook the students up with services,” Tager said, including students such as that sixth grader. The district and the Sheriff’s Office are also sharing information about students with such psychological issues. It’s not clear how the district is getting around the federal privacy law that bars such sharing of information absent law enforcement issues.

Tager described more specifically what he termed “restorative practices” toward problem students, changing the way they are dealt with.

“It is time that parents be parents again and not just friends to their children.”

“Districts all over the country are working with students. So, for example, Jason does something that gets him suspended,” Tager said, referring to Jason Wheeler, the district’s spokesman, who was at the table during the interview. “The old school attitude is, OK Jason, see you in three days. The new school attitude is—let’s say, Jason threw an F-bomb at the teacher. We’re going to put him in an environment where he and the teacher will speak about what happened, we’ll look for services for Jason, we’ll look at a re-entry plan, and I think those are the things for really tough students that sometimes we let them off the hook.”

But there’s also an effort to get parents more closely involved in helping address such issues.

There will be a “see something, say something” curriculum in schools, Tager said, turning his focus again to students. “I want to say that our student voices matter, and looking at what happened at Douglas High School, one thing that happened different than what I’ve seen before is the way students are reacting. We have some very intelligent young people, and I’m going to promise to listen to them.” He spoke of last Friday’s student march, initiated by Perry, and this week’s solemn moment organized by Matanzas students to recognize the 17 victims at Parkland. “We do need additional financial support from Tallahassee, but not at the cost of our normal funding, which has been steadily dropping for Flagler schools,” he concluded.

Staly focused on the need for more law enforcement: last year he convinced Palm Coast government to add five deputies to the city’s policing ranks, and convinced the county commission to add 10 deputies in addition to that. He’s poised to expand his ranks further through the school resource deputy program.

“Unfortunately today society has changed and we can no longer overlook this need as these tragedies can happen in any community,” Staly said. “The superintendent and I are committed to working together to make our schools safe so that students can learn without being in fear of their safety. In addition we want parents to not have to worry about their children’s safety while in school.”

He said he will work with charter and private schools to have deputies on their campuses as well, all of which would help law enforcement and students “build bridges.” But, he said, for all his responsibility as chief law enforcement officer of the county, “parents should be the chief law enforcement officer of their home and with their children. It is time that parents be parents again and not just friends to their children. Know your children’s friends, where they’re going, who they’re hanging out with, know what they’re doing, what they’re texting. What they’re saying on their phones or computers, social media. Get involved in your child’s life before it’s too late.”

Without waiting for legislative or local government developments, deputies have been directed to increase patrols around schools when not on calls or on assignment. Volunteer C.O.P.’s have been directed to increase their presence at schools during their patrols. “All of our deputies are armed and trained on A.R. 15’s, even the sheriff, even I carry an A.R. 15,” he said of the assault rifle most often used by assailants in school shootings. “Deputies assigned to schools will have quicker access to their A.R. 15’s in case they need to respond. Our deputies have been trained in responding to an active-shooter killer situation.” There was one such training session at FPC Wednesday evening, for the SWAT team.

Staly stressed that his deputies would immediately respond and engage the threat, a statement that seemed to address the issue in Parkland, where a deputy did not confront the attacker as the rampage was ongoing. “Let me make this clear. This means we will kill any active shooter or attacker anywhere in this county,” Staly said. But minutes later he clarified that he was not suggesting that deputies should be executioners: “If you’re an active shooter and you’re holding a gun and you don’t put it down, we’re going to kill you,” he said. “If you don’t have the gun and you’ve already left and we apprehend you then, then no, I’m not the executioner. We’re going to arrest you and put your ass in jail.”

staly statements

Sheriff STaly delivered one of his more eloquent statements since his election more than a year ago. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The sheriff noted there’d be zero tolerance on threats, including threats made in jest, which has been an  issue of late: the sheriff’s office alone has investigated 21 threat incidents in schools since the Parkland shooting, not including Wednesday’s threat at Bunnell Elementary.

Finally, he addressed the arming of faculty or others in one of his more eloquent and measured statements on the realities of policing, guns and school safety since he was elected over a year ago.

The statement is transcribed in full: “First,” Staly said, “let me say that citizens who want to lawfully arm themselves for personal protection have a right to do so, and I fully support their constitutional right. Arming people to protect others is a different matter. Here are some points or questions to consider. A person must receive continuing training to stay proficient, just like my deputies do. They should have psychological testing. Is a teacher or administrator willing to take a life when all they really want to do is educate our children, and they may know the attacker personally? The theory of just shooting to wound a person is for TV and is not realistic. You must be willing to shoot to stop the threat., Those are all decisions that have to be taken into account. Responding deputies must be able to immediately identify the good person from the attacker, or we could have a double tragedy. But most importantly a person must make the decision they’re willing to put themselves between [the] innocent and an attacker. I personally made that decision about 40 years ago when I was shot three times saving the life of another person. I know that I’d do it again without hesitation. I would run towards the threat as I would expect my deputies to do. But the question is: would you? That’s not your job. Taking a life for running toward an incident is a very difficult choice to make and should never be taken lightly. My deputies have made that choice, and they are best trained and equipped to protect our community, especially our students. With that said, in our county, we have many retired law enforcement officers and veterans living in our community, residents that already have significant training., I would support making them special deputies for perimeter security to supplement and work under the direction of a full-time deputy sheriff that is assigned to the school. But that would only be done if the law allows it, the school district approves it and supports it, and only after conducting an extensive background, psychological and additional firearms and legal training.”

Staly did not mention the monetary component: for even such a peripheral school marshal program to work, the money would have to be available, for training and continuous operation. The Legislature is making limited, one-time dollars available for training, and only a one-time, $500 stipend for each actual marshal. The rest would have to be paid for locally. That’s not about to happen in a district where the priority is on expanding school resource deputies, an already burdensome task for county and school budgets.  Staly moments later stressed that that was the better approach, while marshals would have a “very limited focus.”

The news conference and following interviews had kept the students’ library off limits to them for over an hour. That finally ended around noon, and aside from the television trucks and stand-up reports still being videotaped outside, Buddy Taylor Middle School was soon back to its normal, and more routinely locked-up, state. John Fanelli, the school’s principal, was asked just before the news conference if he was sleeping soundly these days. Unhesitatingly, he said yes: an assurance that reflected confidence in his school’s safety, though his first thought was on many other good things happening all year at school.

School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker shook hands with Alyssa Santore, a member of the Flagler Palm Coast High School Student Government Association, who was there with SGA President Tyler Perry, right. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker shook hands with Alyssa Santore, a member of the Flagler Palm Coast High School Student Government Association, who was there with SGA President Tyler Perry, right. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

15 Responses for “Sheriff and Superintendent Pledge to Double School Deputies as They Outline New Normal
Of Campus Security”

  1. Kamamani says:

    Itonic that everyone had to go through a “rigorous” security check to get into the press conference but anyone that looks like a student can walk onto the campus of either high school on any morning during student drop off time. The only time that ids are checked is when someone enters the campus after the school day has started. With over 1,000 students at each high school it is impossible for everyone to know every student, and therefore impossible for everyone to know if a student, or young adult that looks like a student, should be there or not. There is zero security at our schools when students are arriving for the day, but I am glad that the press conference today was secure :/

  2. Randy Jones says:

    Putting more law enforcement officers (LEOs) in our school will absolutely, positively secure our schools (S.O.S.) and keep guns out. We can now also rid ourselves of the inconvenience of metal detectors and x-ray scanners at the Flagler County Courthouse by simply doubling the number of deputies at the lobby. Imagine the money saved on maintenance contracts and upgrades for those scanners! We can eliminate the long waits at TSA checkpoints at Daytona International Airport and Disney World by, you guessed it, doubling the presence of law enforcement in the area. Again, lower equipment maintenance costs and, hey, we decrease the rate of unemployment at the same time. Trust me, our school children will be much safer with two deputies in their school rather than one. How could anyone disagree?

  3. Just Another Parent says:

    Maybe rather than cut school budgets or programs we could cut the funding allocated for making the County pretty. How much money is wasted annually to plant flowers, bushes and shrubs that rot to be dug up and replaced with more? I am pretty sure that there are several ways this County wastes money that is unnecessary and could be allocated toward making our schools safer and helping with mental health in our community. The County budget should be reprioritized before proposing an increase on taxes, placing the burden of expense on the residents. Residents should also be sent a detailed report of exactly how much money is brought into the County and exactly where it is being spent because it seems a lot doesn’t add up in this County. Also where does the $700,000 go because that seems extremely high for a Social Social Worker? Makes residents question if numbers are being fudged so the higher ups pockets continue to be thickly lined.

  4. knightwatch says:

    I will say again and again and again…unless and until we remove weapons of mass murder from our streets and our society we will suffer more mass murders. The common denominator in these killings is the availability for just about anyone to legally obtain a military-grade weapon. If someone with a grudge or even just a momentary loss of reason due to anger or supposed insults or bullying can get one of these weapons, no resource officer or mall cop or anyone else is going to prevent a tragedy. You can’t put security officers in every theater, every mall, every office building or even every school in America. The guns have to go. Do not be appeased or distracted by half measures no matter how reasonable they appear. Weapons of mass murder must be illegal and they must be eliminated from this troubled country.

  5. kevin says:

    Please bill gun owners and ammunition users and not the general public for this plan. They want to advocate for continued assault weapon sales, fight against stricter background checks and fight against limits on ammunition magazines then let them write a second check along with their blood money to the NRA. The burden is on them for this mess in this country. No other country has as many weapons in the hands of the public and no other country has the scale of gun violence. Put two and two together.

  6. Born and Raised Here says:

    Every classroom should be equipped with a lockbox, and inside the lockbox should be a loaded 357 Magnum. only accessible by the teacher in case of an emergency.

  7. Randy Jones says:

    I will say again and again and again…unless and until we remove opioids from our streets and our society we will suffer 60,000+ overdose deaths each and every year. The opioids have to go.

    I will say again and again and again…unless and until we remove drunk drivers from our streets and our society we will suffer almost 29 people in the United States will dying every day in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes (that’s one person every 50 minutes in 2016). Drunk drivers have to go.

    The common denominator in these deaths is the availability for just about anyone to legally obtain opioids and alcohol.

    Do not be appeased or distracted by half measures (the War on Drugs and DUI checkpoints) no matter how reasonable they appear. Opioids and alcohol must be illegal and they must be eliminated from this troubled country.

  8. Randy Jones says:

    Please bill ALL car owners for the carnage caused by drunk drivers. Oh, wait, that cost is already built into their automobile insurance premiums.

    Please bill ALL who pay for health insurance for the carnage caused by opoiod abuse. Oh, wait, that cost is already built into their health insurance premiums (and the taxes they pay for emergency medical services).

    They want to advocate for continued use of their automobiles and the right to health insurance then let them write a second check along with their blood money to the pharmaceutical and alcoholic beverage companies.

    The burden is on them for this mess in this country. No other country has as many drugs and as much alcohol in the hands of the public and no other country has the scale of drug and alcohol related deaths. Put two and two together.

  9. Sherry says:

    Again. . . to all those who think teachers should take on the huge responsibility of being armed and “policing” schools: When the “real” police roll up in response to a report of a shooter at a school, just how in the world are they to be able to know that the person they see with a gun is a “teacher” and not the perpetrator? Arming teachers, under any circumstances, is a recipe for disaster on many levels! More and more guns only creates more and more murder and violence!

    Knightwatch, as usual, you are right on!

    Kevin, you have a really great idea. All the costs associated with protecting ourselves from the horrors of gun violence should be paid for by increased taxes on guns and ammunition.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I count 32 people in attendance….if it were not for school staff the place would be vacant!!! Cameras around the schools with security measures being put in place would be far more effective than putting bodies of cops in the schools. School resource officers in the schools has proven to be a waste. The amount of our tax dollars that goes to fund this for what they actually do to curb or stop crime has shown it is not worth the price tag. Measures have to be taken to prevent shooters from getting into the schools and doing that would save lives and eliminate the need for resource officers. One cop. two cops or three cops is not going to make a huge difference and it is insane to think putting more resource officers in the schools is the answer. This is a huge waste of tax payers dollars!!!

    Just because something has happened to another county or state doesn’t mean we have to prepare for it here. We don’t need extra security in our schools. Anyone that has had a student in schools knows that the resource officers that are in the schools are a joke. They get paid big bucks to be friends with the kids and basically do nothing. They don’t walk around the schools and patrol the grounds. Heck we never see a FCSO outside their car walking paroling any area! Putting measures into place for any visitor to enter a school through the main entrance would be sufficient. Train the staff and be prepared is what is far more important. Many could be dead by the time a resource officer got from one area of the school to the other. Lets use some common sense here, not knee jerk reactions! Staly and Tager need to go…..both lack common sense.

  11. Born and Raised Here says:

    If a disturbed indiviual, or terrorist knows a School is equipped with an arsenal. I think they would have second thoughts about shooting up the School.

  12. Pogo says:

    @Apples, oranges, and gun nuts

    Do you wonder when the unhinged gun loons will take time out from changing the subject of gun violence to anything else – literally anything else – other than the gun in gun violence? Yeah, I agree, never.

    Eventually the suckers waving that fat stack (a stack of dollar bills is still a stack) of tax cut cash will start getting their new health insurance rates; eventually they’ll notice the increased cost of school safety, yadda, yadda, yadda, etc. prevented nothing – after the next school gun shooting massacre rains more innocent blood on the land.

    In the meantime they’ll shout at the rain about being picked on by facts and disrespected by liberals. They’ll have a tantrum and declare a new found love for guns that can be fired more quickly than they can think – and the NRA – and regale us with a story of a willful child doing what they are doing. Finally, they’ll boast of how they brought that child to heel with a threat and the intimidating difference in size and power an adult has over a child.

    And when that child becomes a bitter insane school shooter, spouse killer, and/or suicide – they can say they turned out just as well as they themselves did:

    “…I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
    I called him up just the other day
    I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
    He said, I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time
    You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
    But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
    It’s been sure nice talking to you
    And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
    He’d grown up just like me
    My boy was just like me…”

    – Cat’s in the Cradle lyrics, songwriters: Sandy Chapin / Harry F. Chapin

  13. Randy Jones says:

    The Flagler School District (the last in the United States of America to desegregate? has made great strides in becoming one of the GREAT innovators in public education in Florida. At this point in the history our society I would expect nothing less from our School Board than exemplary innovation and leadership – that which our entire nation could “get behind”. A “second” SRO at each high school is NOT innovative; a reasonable person might even suggest it’s not thrifty and that it does nothing to make students feel safer at school. SECURE OUR SCHOOLS.
    … — …
    S O S

  14. Stan says:

    Anyone who thinks we don’t need resource officers in our schools,is a total fool! Sounds like some of our tax payers are more interested in the old mighty buck instead of our kids lives!! If you think these shootings are happening only in others counties and can’t happen in Palm Coast ,your a bigger fool again. Staly and his officers are doing a super job in this city.If someone thinks they can do a better job, join the police force I’m sure Staly would like you on his team.If you have no interest,then stop being a Monday morning Quarterback,we already have a bench full of you people in this country already!!!

  15. Randy Jones says:

    … — …
    S O S

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