Two combat veterans have “returned to duty” in their own right, this time guarding children at one of Florida’s many schools under the Guardian program.
The Palmetto-based Manatee School for the Arts (MSA) will soon have at least one combat infantryman, 39-year-old Harold Verdecia, who saw action in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Armed with a Kel-Tec bullpup rifle, a Glock sidearm and around 132-144 hours of state-mandated training (which in this case was provided by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office), Verdica walks around 9 miles a day on his campus patrol route, according to the Herald-Tribune.
For MSA Principal Dr. Bill Jones, Verdica isn’t being paid to act as a School Resource Officer, whose job description is break up fights and perform community policing. Instead, Verdica, and others like him, have one role: If there is an active shooter, close distance and engage.
“I wouldn’t hire anybody who hadn’t been shot at and fired back,” Jones said, seemingly making a reference to the Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy who failed to respond when shots rang out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. “I need someone who has been in that situation.”
An AP survey obtained by the New York Times found that 9 of Florida’s 67 county school districts have moved forward with the guardian program, which supplements officers with personnel trained to stop active shooters. Each district is permitted to determine the kind of firearms used.
“We have guardians in almost all of our elementary schools, and in most of our charter schools,” said Manatee County School District spokesman Michael Barber.
In addition, the parents of many Florida students have been relatively open to the idea, particularly at MSA.
“Most parents have been very accepting,” Jones said.
MSA’s Guardians will be equipped with rifles -an unusual choice compared to many school districts, which have employed a “pistol only” policy- and the guards will earn around $50,000 a year.
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