The Hernando County School District will beef up the way it protects students now that the School Board has approved a new program that will station specially-trained “Guardians” in five of the District’s high schools. School Board members voted unanimously to establish the program during its regular meeting on Oct. 12.
Currently, School Resource Officers (SROs) are already present on all school campuses. Under the new program, one Guardian will be assigned to help increase security at each high school in the district.
“To be clear, we have no intentions of replacing the SROs with guardians,” said School Supt. John Stratton. “These are new staff who will be an addition to our current school safety initiatives.”
Guardians will be chosen from among applicants who submit to extensive background checks and other screenings and who complete 144 hours of specialized training provided by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).
“We anticipate that most successful candidates will be retired law enforcement officers or come from a career in law enforcement,” said district Director of Safe Schools, Jill Renihan.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis praised the program as a cost-effective way to enhance security at the County’s larger schools.
“This added layer of security will ensure that certain larger campuses will have even better coverage, and the deputies at those campuses will have armed back up in the event there is a serious situation that arises on or very near the campus,” Nienhuis said. “The experience and oversight provided by the sworn deputy, combined with the cost-effective addition of guardians, should give our parents even more comfort knowing that their children are being provided a safe place to learn.”
If the plan receives final board approval on Oct. 26, Guardians are expected to complete training in January and are scheduled to be placed in district high schools in March.
The District expects to expand the Guardian program to middle and K-8 schools with higher enrollment numbers during the 2022-23 school year.
Revenue for the program will be derived from the referendum approved by voters last year which increased property taxes levied by the school district by 1 mill.
“We can afford to add these highly-trained and qualified guardians at our schools because of the support and trust of our community,” Stratton said. “It remains our priority to keep our schools safe.”