Students at Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto will notice that their hallways are going through a change by the end of the month.
They will see two combat veterans in body armor roaming the campus, each carrying a 9-millimeter Glock handgun and a Kel-Tec Bullpup Rifle.
According to Bill Jones, principal of MSA, the veterans aren’t there to get to know the kids or break up fights or do the typical campus policing.
“If an armed intruder were to enter the campus, we’re not looking for a fair fight.” Jones said. “We’re looking at an overwhelming advantage.”
After the massacre in February of 2018 in Parkland, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that requires schools in Florida to have at-least one “safe-school officer.” A post-Parkland commission has also recommended that Florida school districts allow teachers who are trained to carry guns in school.
MSA, a charter school of 2,100 middle and high school students, is the only school in Manatee County to hire two guards who bear rifles, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s office, which trained the guards.
“It’s just a much more effective weapon than a handgun is,” Jones said.
Some people can understand hiring the combat veterans, but their weapons of choice are what’s in question.
Alexia Jackson, a graduate of Florida A&M spoke to the, situation.
“I can understand them hiring combat veterans to deescalate a situation where there’s an active shooter,” Jackson said. “I just don’t see why they have to carry semi-automatic rifles. In a highly hostile environment, firing off rounds instead of three or four bullets can really harm someone besides the active shooter.”
Executive director of Safe Havens International, Micheal Dorn, said that MSA decided to patrol with long guns.
“It’s not something that we typically advise our clients to do for a variety of reasons,” Dorn noted that someone may knock the officer out and take the gun, which would make it more difficult to subdue an individual with a semiautomatic rifle.
One of the combat veterans, Harold Verdecia, a former infantryman in the U.S. Army who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke to the reactions he is getting from students .
“So far 90 percent of the reactions have been all good,” Verdecia said in a statement. “You have a few here and there who don’t agree. Some people react a little bit different, I'm guessing they’re scared but this is something new and people are not used to seeing guns in school.”