The Implications of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act for ACSI Member Schools in Florida
On February 14, 2018, a mass shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ("School"), part of Broward County Public School District in Parkland, Florida that resulted in the deaths of seventeen students. A 19-year old, who was reportedly expelled from the School, was responsible for the shooting using an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that he acquired on or around his eighteenth birthday. In reaction thereto, a student movement developed leading to passage of the "Act". The Governor signed the Act into law on March 9, 2018, whereupon it became known as Chapter 2018-3, Laws of Florida.
There are several provisions in the Act that benefit public school districts and public schools including charter schools. There are a few areas that do impact ACSI Florida Christian Schools. However, nowhere in the Act are there any mandates or requirements for participation by ACSI Florida Christian Schools.
Here are some items that ACSI members should be aware of or may participate in:
School Guardian Program There was a $67 million appropriation in the Act for the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to allocate to the sheriffs' offices to establish a School Guardian Program. A School Guardian is a volunteer who has no authority to act in any law enforcement capacity except to the extent necessary to prevent or abate an active assailant incident on the school premises. The sheriff has the authority to appoint school guardians, without the power of arrest, if they meet all the requirements. The funding is to be used for screening-related and training-related costs and providing a one-time stipend of $500 to school guardians who participate in the program. The sheriffs' offices have the choice as to whether to participate or not. This section of the Act does not specifically say for public schools. Therefore, we believe that ACSI member schools should be able to participate in this program if they choose to do so. The Act specifically excludes public school teachers and would probably exclude private school teachers also. The sheriff will issue a school guardian certificate to individuals who meet these following requirements:
Eligible "school employees" who may volunteer to be school guardians must:
- Hold a valid license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm pursuant to section 790.06, Florida Statutes
- Complete 132 total hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training as specified in the statute
- Pass a psychological evaluation
- Pass an initial drug test and subsequent random drug tests
- Complete ongoing training, weapon inspection and firearm qualification on an annual basis
- Complete at least 12 hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training program
ACSI would recommend that each ACSI member school that would be interested in the program contact their local sheriff and ask if they plan to participate in the School Guardian Program and express your interest in the program.
Mobile Suspicious Activity Reporting Tool
The legislature appropriated about $400,000 to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ("FDLE") to procure a mobile suspicious activity reporting tool by January 31, 2019 to be known as "FortifyFL," available on Android and Apple devices, enabling "students and the community" to relay information anonymously (if preferred) concerning unsafe, potentially harmful, dangerous, violent or criminal activities, or the threat of these activities to law enforcement, school districts and schools. ACSI believes this tool will be available to all citizens of the state of Florida. Therefore, Christian School personnel and students would have access to the app to be able to report suspicious activity.
Centralized Data Repository
The Legislature appropriated $3 million in recurring funds to FDOE to procure a Centralized Data Repository. The Repository most likely will contain best practices, training standards and compliance oversight regarding school safety and security "for use by school districts." It is likely to be housed at FDLE and will include data from FDLE, social media, the Department of Children and Families, Department of Juvenile Justice and local law enforcement. It may also contain data provided directly by school districts as a state or local source agency. Public schools will have direct access to this database. Private school will not have direct access to the data. However, the law does not preclude law enforcement officials from utilizing the data to report to private schools. However, there is no clear mandate for them to do so for Christian Schools.
ACSI would recommend, if you are ever concerned as to whether a threat has been made against the school or someone brings it to your attention that a threat has been made, you should contact law enforcement officials and ask if the Data Repository has any information about threats to your Christian School. You may want to have a discussion ahead of time with your local sheriff or police department regarding the data and if they would let you know if something shows up in the Data Repository concerning your Christian School.
In addition, the Act has many more provisions not directly related to enhanced appropriations, some of which may indirectly benefit ACSI Christian schools. The provisions are summarized next:
- Establishing a mechanism for a law enforcement officer or agency to apply for a risk protection order requiring at least temporary surrender of firearms and ammunition. The petition must allege that the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or herself or others by having a firearm or any ammunition in his or her custody or control or by purchasing, possessing or receiving a firearm or ammunition.
- Provides law enforcement with additional rights to gain entry to premises to take custody of a person who is the subject of an ex parte order and to seize firearms.
- Establishes community action treatment teams to provide improved behavioral health and support services to children aged 11-21, and a multiagency network for students in each school district with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
- Limits access to firearms by persons adjudicated mentally defective, below the age of 21, and who are at high risk of harming themselves or others.
- Imposes a mandatory waiting period between purchase and delivery of a firearm.
- Prohibits bump-fire stock.
- Adds a written threat to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism, in any manner that would allow another person to view the threat, as a felony of the second degree.
- Enacts the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission to investigate failures at the high school, make recommendations for improvements, and report.
- Requires students at initial registration for schools in school districts to note referrals to mental health services and requiring referral for mental health services.
- Requires emergency drills relating to hypothetical active shooter and hostage situations, designation by the school district of a school safety specialist, public school security risk and threat assessments, mobile crisis teams, establishment of zero-tolerance district-level policies and procedures for the prevention of school violence, confidential sharing of records among agencies that provide mental health services to children, and facilities improvements.
The first of these provisions will enable ACSI Christian schools to bring to the attention of law enforcement persons posing a significant danger of causing personal injury to themselves or others for obtaining a risk protection order. Also, member schools should consider briefing older students on the risks of making threats which now include prosecution for a felony of the second degree.
Standard of Negligence
The Act creates several initiatives to create, gather and disseminate standards and suggestions related to school crisis situations. Some of these initiatives are ongoing, as in creating new positions within the Florida Department of Education, and some are taskforces created to study specific issues. ACSI Christian Schools should watch closely how these initiatives unfold over the months and years to come. It is highly likely some of these initiatives will create or raise the expectations (standards of care) for K-12 education in Florida and how schools prepare and respond to crisis situations. Essentially, this likely means private education in Florida will need to adopt new policies, practices and resources or run the risk of being negligent in its duty to care for students.
For example, the Act likely will make at least some of the following customary conduct emergency drills, conduct security risk and threat assessments, appoint security officers, adopt policies and procedures relative to school violence, and make facilities improvements designed to reduce the active shooter threat.
ACSI Christian schools have the same special relationship with students as public schools and juries are likely to hold Christian Schools to the same standards and may find themselves liable if general or specific threats are not acted upon and harm is caused. ACSI Schools need to be diligent to take similar security measures.
ACSI would recommend that member schools meet with local law enforcement agencies and ask them to conduct a security risk and threat assessment of your campus. Then make plans to prepare for risks or threats.
Every ACSI member school should have a Crisis Management Plan and practice it through drills and such.