Palm Beach Gardens’ city manager is enthusiastic about policing the city’s elementary schools for a year or two — possibly longer — even as the sheriff’s office and school district squabble over coverage for elementary schools in unincorporated pockets of the county.
Ron Ferris told the city council he’s happy to provide officers to police the four elementary schools in the city limits until school district police can bolster their ranks.
The police officers will patrol Palm Beach Gardens, Allamanda, Marsh Pointe and Timber Trace elementary schools until the school district can hire enough officers, Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Clint Shannon said. The school district will reimburse the city overtime rates to patrol the schools seven hours a day.
“We feel obviously that this is a super important initiative, and we are certainly willing to help them out,” Shannon said.
A state law passed in response to the Feb.14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland requires at least one armed guard at each Florida school by August. The guards are not required to be certified law enforcement officers.
The details are still being worked out, but the district expects to present them to the school board at its meeting June 20, Shannon said. The yearly reimbursement specifically for Palm Beach Gardens schools was not immediately available. Generally, district officials estimate the patrols could cost $2,100 a week per school.
For the school district to cover all elementary schools, they would have to hire and train 75 more police officers by the first day of school on Aug. 13 — a virtually impossible task. Ten other cities have tentatively agreed to fill in the gaps. District police are already assigned to middle and high schools.
Palm Beach Gardens will not need to hire additional police officers to provide the coverage. Instead, officers will work the school shifts in addition to their other duties while complying with a policy that limits the maximum hours they can work every day, city spokeswoman Candice Temple said.
City police train for active shooters in the schools, Ferris said, adding that experienced firefighter-paramedics train with the SWAT team to go into “hot zones” together and police officers have children who go to the schools.
“Together, we have the equipment, we have the resources, we have the heart to protect our children in our community,” he said.
School district spokeswoman Julie Houston Trieste said the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department has always been committed to the community schools and officers are often seen at the schools already because of the outreach work they do.
Ferris said he would rather see the city’s role in policing elementary schools be permanent rather than temporary but “time will tell on that.”
Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lantana, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Palm Springs, Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach have tentatively agreed to provide officers to patrol elementary schools in their city limits when school starts. Any final agreements will need approval from the school board and each city’s leaders.