Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas told his school board at special workshop on Thursday that he has talked with local law enforcement about establishing a school marshal program to provide security for the elementary schools.
The marshals would be primarily retired military, deputies and police officers or may be members of the sheriff’s reserves. They would dress in plainclothes and be armed. The marshals would be hired and governed by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.
“They would be trained under the sheriff,” said Thomas. “An undisclosed number each day would be put in our elementary schools.”
Currently the school district has no deputies or police officers –job title “school resource officer”–in its elementary schools. Thomas said if the school marshal program is instituted–and he admitted to the board that all the details haven’t been worked out with the sheriff and the Pensacola Police Department–he will place signs at the elementary schools where he has marshals.
The superintendent said the program is similar to the air marshal program launched by the federal government after the plane hijackings.
Thomas is establishing a task force that will assess the security status of every school in the district, determine what structural, policy and personnel changes are needed to protect students and teachers. The task will develop a matrix similar to one used for school closure to help the school board determine priorities. The task force’s findings will not be discussed publicly. It will be given to the board in a closed meeting.
“We are protecting our most valuable resource.”
District attorney Donna Waters told the board that any discussions or facts about school security are exempt from the state’s Sunshine laws.
“The state legislature gave the broadest exemption for discussing security,” said Waters. “The discussions are exempt and you don’t have to advertise the meetings.”
She warned the board about making any statements about specific schools in their districts. “We are protecting our most valuable resource.”
After Waters made her comments, but before the superintendent threw out his school marshal concept, Board Chairman Jeff Bergosh offered in a Powerpoint presentation several ideas for the task force to consider.
Bergosh that he had been thinking about the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings nearly every day and though upgrading the school security may be expensive, he wanted the board to be open-minded when it addressed the issue.
“How do you out a price on a human life?” asked the board chairman.
Bergosh approached the issue on three levels– near-term, mid-term and long-term.
Some of the option that brought up were:
- Expand SRO (School Resource Officer) program. He praised Okaloosa County Sheriff for immediately putting SROs in his elementary schools.
- Adding armed security personnel
- Allowing site-based personnel to carry concealed weapons
- Creating a District police force. He cited Tulsa, Ok. school district that has 43 officers, centralized alarm system and a $3-million annual budget.
Superintendent Thomas warned the board about overreacting. “None of us can look at school security the same way,” he said. “We can’t overreact as others have and provide simple solutions to a complicated problem.”
Thomas wanted to take a “methodical, thoughtful approach.” He asked the board to wait for the task force to do its work, although he hinted that the marshal program could be started as soon as February–“We’re getting it up and running in short order.” However, Thomas wanted to be sure whatever is done is sustainable–meaning it can be paid for.
The superintendent praised the ECSO and PPD for their “dramatic increase of law enforcement presence on our campuses.” He said that the district’s communication with both agencies is better now than two months ago.