An instructor trains a school guardian on how to respond to an active shooter.
An instructor trains a school guardian on how to respond to an active shooter. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

A safe-school officer hired to protect children stood in front of a mirror, clutched her gun for practice and pulled the trigger of what she thought was an unloaded weapon. The gun fired and sent a bullet through the mirror.

At another school, an officer on her lunch break slipped into a school bathroom and filmed a nude video of herself for her husband. An investigator concluded her response to a school shooting could have been delayed by her “disrobed state.”

One officer pawned his service weapon, pistol flashlight and ballistic vest and was then found patrolling his school with a pellet gun in his holster.

Those safe-school officer mishaps were revealed in the first batch of notifications school districts provided under a new state requirement and reviewed by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Since May, school systems

Eleven notifications have been filed so far, representing only a tiny number of officers patrolling the state’s schools.

But for Kenneth Trump, a school safety consultant, those notifications raise a question that leaders should be asking themselves: Do enough qualified armed guards exist to meet the state’s mandate that a “good guy with a gun” be stationed on every campus?

Police departments across the country are struggling to recruit qualified candidates, and Florida’s mandate created after the Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland school shooting only created more demand for qualified officers to keep schoolchildren safe.

Under pressure to meet the mandate, school officials and sheriffs have no choice but to lower the bar, Trump said.

“The emotional reaction to this is great,” said Trump, president of the Cleveland-based firm National School Safety and Security. “There’s a political benefit. The legislators come out shining like angels, but the school administrators are stuck struggling with the devil in the details.”

Broward County, for instance, lowered its standards for guardians because it was having a hard time filling the positions. Initially, the district required at least two years of military or law enforcement experience. It revised those standards to consider candidates with experience working as a security guard.

Safe-school officers in Broward County make about $26,000 to $34,000. Guardians who work during summer programs can earn an additional $5,100 to $6,600. Compensation and job requirements vary by district.

Broward’s standards go beyond those in state law, which doesn’t set specific job qualifications. State law requires that guardians complete 144 hours of training and pass a background check and psychological evaluation.

Bob Gualtieri, chairman of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, said the notifications show problems only with a “minuscule” number of safe-school officers, and he thinks the standards are sufficient.

“The right oversight mechanism is in place,” said Gualtieri, who is the sheriff in Pinellas County. “The reality is there is no perfect in the world. You take reasonable steps to ensure you get the right people, and they are trained properly. We in essence are putting these guardians through the same scrutiny that we put police officers through, and they are being signed off on by the sheriff.”

Nearly 3,000 law enforcement officers and 900 guardians are assigned to schools in Florida, according to a June presentation given by the Office of Safe Schools.

Here are some examples of issues reported to the state.

  • In Hillsborough County, a school guardian accidentally fired a bullet through a bathroom mirror while practicing before her firearms certification test. Another guardian — who had passed the required psychological evaluation — handed a suicide note to the principal and abandoned his post. A nearby veterans hospital admitted him for treatment 40 minutes later. A third guardian pawned his service weapon, pistol flashlight and ballistic vest; his supervisor discovered he was carrying a pellet gun on campus instead of his assigned service weapon.
  • A safe-school officer sent a nude video to her husband on her lunch break while inside a locked one-stall bathroom at a Kissimmee Imagine Charter Academy near Orlando.
  • A Broward County school guardian assigned to Sheridan Hills Elementary School in Hollywood resigned in lieu of termination when an investigation revealed he left a loaded gun in a duffel bag inside his locked office. The district alleged that the firearm was not properly secured and violated procedures on the safe storage of firearms.
  • Other notifications involved a Clay County safe-school officer who was fired for shoving a student and a Brevard County guardian who was carrying unauthorized ammunition. School officials in Seminole County became concerned when a school resource officer drew his gun during a drill. An administrator said she worried the officer had post-traumatic stress disorder from prior military service.
  • Some districts provided scant details in their notices. A Volusia County school guardian resigned amid an investigation into “misconduct.” Two safe-school officers in Duval County resigned after they were suspended for “prohibited conduct” that brought the school police force into “disrepute or ridicule.”

While there is a police officer shortage, districts have “no shortage of available options’ to meet the mandate of an armed guard on every campus, Gualtieri said.

School districts can hire armed guardians to patrol campuses. They can contract with security agency for staffing. School employees, including classroom teachers, can undergo training and participate in the guardian program.

Palm Beach County’s reliance on private security officers posed a potential risk for students last year.