LABELLE, Fla. — The Hendry County School District will be one of the first in Southwest Florida to move forward with a plan to arm staff members at public schools.
The Hendry County School Board voted Tuesday night to participate in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which is part of State Bill 7026 - the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
The program, which works with the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office, will allow selected staff members to carry concealed weapons during school hours, to use as protection during active shooter situations.
School teachers will not be eligible to participate in the program unless they are a current service member, police officer, or a JROTC instructor.
The only people eligible for the program will be non-teacher staff. The Hendry County School District has already started a selection process.
“We have begun already to compile our list of potential participants,” said Hendry County Schools Deputy Superintendent Lucinda Kelley.
Parents at a LaBelle elementary school were pleased with the decision. “I think it’d be good to have someone who’s trained to get there as soon as they can,” said one parent.
“I think it’s alright,” said another parent. “I just think they need to watch who they give it to.”
Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden said the staff member selections will be strictly regulated, and require rigorous screenings multiple times a year. “We’re basically going to teach them how to carry, how to handle their firearm, we’re going to make sure they’re proficient with firearms,” he said. “We’re doing polygraph tests, we’re doing full law enforcement background checks, we’re doing drug tests, and we’re doing psychological testing.”
Participants are selected on a volunteer basis and will undergo 144 hours of tactical training. A school resource officer will be the only person to know who the volunteer is in a school setting.
The school district hopes to have the program functioning by the fall.