WINTER HAVEN (FOX 13) - A holistic approach in enhancing school safety is being proposed by a state representive in Florida following the deadly school shooting in Parkland.
Alongside Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Rep. Ross Spano (R-Dover) announced the proposal, targeted at preventing future gun violence tragedies.
"It's not something we want to do. It's something we have to do," Judd said during the Friday morning press conference.
Rep. Spano outlined five parts of the proposal:
Matching School Security Funds: The state of Florida would match funds with school districts allowing them to "harden" their schools. This could include more surveillance cameras, extra fencing, bulletproof classroom doors and allocating funds for at least one armed school resource officer, depending on the size of the school and other factors. When asked if there was a matching figure, Spano said it's too early to know, but "no amount is great."
Expand Sheriff's Sentinel Program: This program was implemented by the Polk County Sheriff's Office almost one year ago, allowing staff and faculty to volunteer and carry a concealed weapon on campus. Two schools in the county are participating. Under the proposal, teachers can continue to volunteer, and it will not be mandated. They can only participate under strict circumstances, including emotional and psychological evaluations and complete standardized training.
Law Enforcement and Prosecutor Intervention: This would allow law enforcement officials and prosecutors additional tools to intervene when school threats are reported. There will be penalties for false threats. It will be mandated for those with "custodial responsibilities" to report threats. This would include health care professionals, guidance counselors, nurses, daycare providers and others, and under the proposal, they will be protected from liabilities for making those reports.
Church Protection Act: This is currently a stand-alone bill in the state legislature. This would allow churches with school facilities, if they choose, to have concealed permit holders to protect them.
Gun Violence Restraining Order: Under the proposal, it will prevent a "narrowly-defined" group, including roommates, parents and law enforcement to petition the court to temporarily remove gun rights from a "troubled" individual. The petitioner must prove the individual is a "danger to himself or others." That individual couple appeal and the restraining order will lapse after a certain period of time. There will be penalties for false reporting of an individual's threat.
Joining the announcement was Pastor Wayne Roberts of Bethel Baptist Church in Lakeland, who said during the press conference his church wants to take a stand.
"We don't live in the same culture that I've grown up in," he said. "Things have changed for us. Being scared about something distracts us from worshiping the Holy God."
Dr. Kent Ingle, president of Southeastern University, touted the Sentinel Program. Southeastern University was the first school in Polk County to join the Sheriff’s Sentinel Program. Webber International University announced Thursday they will be the second school to join the program.
"We're grateful for the Sentinel Program," Ingle said during the press conference. "We're not giving guns to every member of the faculty. We want to provide the safety and most secure learning environment. Why? Because they trust us to do that."
Spano said he doesn't anticipate much pushback from state legislators on the proposals.
"Everybody in the legislature, across the board, is fully committed to doing whatever has to be done," he said. "We’ve got to get away from this notion that it’s my position or your position. Our position is protecting our kids."
Sheriff Judd has been outspoken in allowing guns to be carried on school campuses, and launched the Sentinel Program last summer.
He spoke about Aaron Feis, one of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting last week, calling him a "hero," but said the scenario could have been different if he had a gun.
"Don’t you think one of his last thoughts as he charged that guy was, 'Gosh, I’d like to have a gun?" Judd asked. "If he had it, it could’ve been a whole different story.”