WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — More accountability for Florida school district employees could be on the way to help keep kids in schools safe.
House Bill 399 and Senate Bill 394, both filed last month for the upcoming legislative session, would require school districts be notified if an employee is issued a risk protection order. State Senator Blaise Ingoglia and State Representative John Paul Temple, both from Hernando County, sponsored the bills respectively. If passed in the upcoming legislative session, the new law would take effect in July 2024.
Risk protection orders are filed by law enforcement agencies when they believe a person poses a danger to themself, or others, by having a firearm.
But at least one Palm Beach County School Board member wants to address the issue immediately.
Right now, Palm Beach County School Board policy requires employees to self-report an arrest within 48 hours. The policy, however, does not appear to address court orders, like risk protection orders or restraining orders.
The issue came to the forefront this week after Boynton Beach High School teacher Hawazin Wright was arrested multiple times in a matter of days, first causing a scene at a protest in downtown West Palm Beach.
West Palm Beach police described his behavior as erratic and dangerous. Court records show police filed a risk protection order against him twice. First a year ago, after a mental health episode, and again after this new string of incidents. Both times the orders said Wright posed a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or others by possessing a firearm or ammunition. Wright is currently on administrative leave from the school district.
School board member Frank Barbieri said he wants change in the school board police to make sure school leaders know if an employee is issued a risk protection order.
"I believe it's in the best interest of the safety of our children and our staff on campuses that our policy be modified," he told WPTV Education Reporter Stephanie Susskind.
"Certainly, we should be aware if there is possible danger involved for children and staff and other people on the campus," Barbieri said. "I certainly think if a risk protection order is issued, that the district should be notified by the employee and also I think it should go a step further. I think if a restraining order is issued against an employee, I believe that employee should have to notify the district of that also."
Barbieri is glad to see the legislation filed and hopes to see it pass. Regardless, he said he wants to make the change in Palm Beach County.
"Someone in Tallahassee has taken notice of the fact that school board policies apparently around the state don't currently require those types of reporting," he said. "But I'm happy to try to get my colleagues on the board to try to change our policy and accomplish that objective."
The board member plans to bring up the topic for discussion at an upcoming board meeting in either December or January. He said sometimes it takes an incident like the recent arrest to bring an issue to light.
"We have 23,000 employees in the district and every week someone does something we wish they would not have done," he said. "But when something does occur and we find there's some type of vagueness in our policy or there's some kind of restriction that should be there and it's not, I think its good we find these things."