Osceola County schools briefly fires all SROs, then backpedals

WFTV9 | By Nick Papantonis | August 2, 2023

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Osceola County school board members briefly voted to start the school year without any school resource officers welcoming and protecting students and staff, in a surprise vote that was quickly reversed when board members realized what they’d done.

The board took up the routine task of approving the contract between the district and the three county law enforcement agencies Tuesday night, which allows the district-funded officers and deputies to patrol the schools.

However, the discussion quickly went sideways when board members brought up a portion of Kissimmee Police Department’s part of the contract that allowed a guardian to replace an officer at a school on days where staffing was slim.

A guardian is an armed security guard, instead of a law enforcement official. Kissimmee officials and the school district superintendent assured the outraged board members that the guardian was the department’s “backup backup” plan. The city is furnishing 15 officers to the district this year to act as SROs, along with the guardian.

“The great thing about our law enforcement partners is that they understand that having a backup plan isn’t enough. You got to have a backup to the backup plan,” newly appointed Superintendent Dr. Mark Shanoff said.

“The backup to the backup to the backup plan should be having the chief of police in our schools, before we send someone who’s not a law enforcement officer,” board member Jon Arguello retorted. “All it takes is one tragedy to realize that this was a gigantic error.”

The first vote to approve the contract failed 3-2, leaving the district without the state-mandated security authorities inside any of its buildings. While some board members expressed confidence a revised contract would be able to be hammered out before the first day of classes next week, Shanoff told board members it was not possible.

The board then reopened discussion and – after a few minutes – voted to approve the contract, though none of the members sounded enthusiastic about the approval.

“Somebody’s going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m sick,’” Arguello said, warning of a potential slippery slope. “It gets easier and easier and easier to put in a guardian in our schools.”

In both responses to the board members and in comments to WFTV, Kissimmee leaders said they didn’t have a critical staffing issue in their police department but were simply planning for emergency situations where an SRO would be forced to move to a patrol car.

They said this year’s contract included a corporal position which, among other duties, would serve as the primary backup in the event of a call-out, and the guardian position was included in last year’s contract without any problems.

“Everything’s a compromise, right?” Assistant City Manager Austin Blake told board members. “Can you get the officers that you need from that Academy on the street? It takes us a year and a half, two years to really get them there.”

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