Amid calls for arming teachers following the slaying of 17 students at a South Florida High School two weeks ago — including from President Donald Trump — Citrus County School Board members made it clear in a workshop Tuesday that's one solution that's probably not on the table.
“We take school safety very seriously, but it’s a complex issue that we continue to hear more about at the national level, at the state level, and here locally,” said chairman Doug Dodd, a retired law enforcement officer. “We have a lot of different views and questions that we’re having to answer.
“I know there are a lot of concerns about arming teachers,” Dodd continued. “I am not in favor of arming teachers, but I think we have to be open to looking at the potential for added safety measures for our students.”
Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel also voiced opposition to that strategy.
“I will tell you I’ve heard from several teachers, and I heard from one yesterday who had tears in her eyes who begged me ‘Please, Mrs. Himmel, don’t let them make us carry a gun.’ … It’s a cheap way to put more guns on our campuses, in my belief, and I believe that law enforcement should be the ones carrying guns on our campuses. I could change my mind once they have more discussion ... but I think right now it’s too early for me to say ‘I’m a firm believer that we should do that,’” Himmel said.
Himmel acknowledged that parents and the public want information that the district sometimes cannot provide.
“I don’t like to discuss a lot of the things that we’re doing,” Himmel said, “and that’s been a hard thing to explain to parents — that we can’t just come out and tell you what we’re doing.”
The school board generally enters an executive session to discuss specifics of school safety plans and protocols. Such sessions are not subject to video recording or open to the public.
One safety measure was visible: After the shooting in Broward County, there was an increased police presence on Citrus school campuses.
“We do appreciate the increased visibility of officers on our campuses,” Dodd said. “We want parents to know that the sheriff’s office and Mrs. Himmel and the school board are working together to protect students. We had talked about the idea of having an SRO in every school...we would need five more elementary school SROs.”
Each middle and high school in the county already has its own school resource officer. The five deputies currently assigned as elementary school SROs are shared among the 11 elementary schools in the district.
Adding enough deputies to have one on each campus could add considerable cost to the sheriff’s office’s contract with the school district.
“This board may find itself having to communicate a message to the board of county commissioners that they need to increase the sheriff’s funding for more school resource officers,” Dodd said. “We are talking about — even with five or six new school resource officers — in the neighborhood of six hundred thousand dollars.”
“When we get down the road, if there is some type of certification program or school marshal program ... those are things that we would have to look at,” Dodd continued. “Obviously we would never compel an employee — a teacher or any employee — to have to carry a gun and hopefully we don’t have to get to that point, ever. Hopefully we can meet this need with uniformed deputies.”