Okeechobee schools take first step towards arming staff

OKEECHOBEE — At their monthly meeting on April 10 the Okeechobee County School Board took the first steps in implementing the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian program, instructing superintendent Ken Kenworthy to bring the policy before the board at their May board meeting. All board members approved the motion.

At the May meeting board members can make any adjustments to the policy, then a final vote to implement the policy would take place in the school board’s June meeting.

The school board heard from members of the public shortly before the vote. Katharine Williams, a crisis counselor for the Okeechobee school system voiced her support of the program.

“The members of the board are facing some of the hardest decisions they’ll ever face,” said Mrs. Williams. “And I wanted to tell you that you have my trust. If we can stop one person from walking into a school district with a weapon with intent to harm our students or faculty members, then we should take that opportunity. I trust that our school board and sheriff’s department would properly vet these people. I think this is a good step in the right direction.”

The Okeechobee County school district held an online survey regarding the guardian program in the weeks leading up to the school board meeting, and the majority of the feedback from that survey was in favor of implementing the program in Okeechobee schools.

Lisa Harwas, first grade teacher and Okeechobee County Education Association president voiced her opposition to the plan to the school board before the vote.

“One scenario that I keep worrying about,” explained Mrs. Harwas, “is a principal or administrator who has a concealed weapon on them having to restrain a student and the student getting access to that gun and shooting other students.”

Both Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen and Okeechobee city police chief Bob Peterson were in attendance at the meeting, with both saying they were in favor of the program.

The vote came on the same day that the Broward County School Board unanimously voted to reject the state’s plan to arm school staff. The Broward school board instead will ask the state to redirect its portion of the $67 million allocated statewide to implement the Aaron Feis Guardian Program so that Broward schools can hire more police officers.

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