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Escambia seeks school security officers

The Escambia County School District is finalizing preparations for the new school year.
Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media
The Escambia County School District is finalizing preparations for the new school year.

The call is going out from the Escambia County School District to those interested in becoming a campus security officer in the district’s 35 elementary schools.

The call is not in response to the shooting last year at Oxford High School in Michigan, according to Kyle Kinser, the district’s protection services coordinator.

“This has been on the books for some time; we started the program three years ago, and the goal is to get somewhere between 40 to 50 campus security officers,” he said. “And really, what prompted this more than anything is [Gov. Ron DeSantis] reinstated some funding that had been taken away in years past.”

Just after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, about $40 million was allocated for schools in all of Florida’s 67 districts for officer training. Kinser says just how much for Escambia is not known.

“Some of that money went unspent through the state, and so the governor had taken that money back — and this year, the money became available again,” Kinser said. “The [Escambia] Sheriff’s Office is actually who applies for the grant; it’s covering everything from the weapons, body armor, training personnel. I would anticipate it being a couple of hundred thousand dollars.”

The goal for the next class that begins in February is to hire 20 new officers, who will be employees of the School District, under the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program named after a football coach who died in the Marjorie Stoneman shooting.

“We currently have 29 campus security officers who are trained guardians, who are certified by the local sheriff’s office; so those folks are strictly School District employees,” Kinser said. “But the training is ran [sic] by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. So the same folks that are training the deputies you see on the street, these are the same folks that will train our campus security officers.”

Those completing the course will be assigned to the district’s 35 elementary schools. Not because it’s the right thing to do — which Kinser says it is — but it’s also Florida law.

“After Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas, we are required to have a ‘safe school’ officer at every school,” he said. “That’s something that we’re striving to do, and we’ve been doing now for a few years. But with the staffing shortages that you see out there, it’s a struggle hiring anyone. And that’s why we want to get the information out. This is our sixth CSO training class that we’ve put on in three years.”

Applicants who are prior or retired law enforcement and/or military are most welcome to apply, among others, says Kinser.

“Possibly folks with a strong private security background; our training is extensive,” Kinser said.” We are looking for folks that have that prior knowledge and skills to bring to our training and to our School District.”

The training period will be four to five weeks; after that, the candidates will be vetted to ensure they meet the requirements to work day-to-day at a school. Kinser was asked if the Oxford High shooting has led to more urgency to get the new officers on the job. He says yes and no.

“With the shooting, it just reminds us all that this can happen anywhere; doing what we do, we know it’s possible and it’s our job to return our students back to their parents daily — that’s our number one job,” said Kinser. “Doesn’t matter how good we do educating them, if we don’t return them daily, we haven’t done our jobs.”

And ECSD’s Kyle Kinser warns that although the goal is to hire 20 new officers, there’s no guarantee all 20 will come from the February class.

“We are very strict on the standards that we hold for these folks — these folks are carrying guns in elementary schools; we currently only graduate about 40 to 45% of the folks we start, because we do have such high standards,” Kinser said. “We do anticipate this being an ongoing recruiting effort, probably for the next year or so. We’re always going to have ongoing training, with natural attrition and folks moving on.”

Starting pay for the new hires is $31,397 for the 10 months of the school year. More information can be found at the Escambia County School District’s website.