Bob Gualtieri is the Pinellas County sheriff. He also served chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which was created to investigate the shooting spree that killed 17 staff and students in Parkland in February 2018. | Screenshot, Duval County Public SchoolsBob Gualtieri is the Pinellas County sheriff. He also served chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which was created to investigate the shooting spree that killed 17 staff and students in Parkland in February 2018. | Screenshot, Duval County Public Schools
Bob Gualtieri is the Pinellas County sheriff. He also served chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which was created to investigate the shooting spree that killed 17 staff and students in Parkland in February 2018. | Screenshot, Duval County Public Schools

How to avoid the next school shooting: Duval gets some advice

Published on February 21, 2024 at 4:20 pm

There’s no doubt another school shooting will happen somewhere. But Duval Schools received advice this week on how to avoid its happening here.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who led the investigation into the Parkland school shooting in 2018, spoke this week to the Duval County School Board — less than three weeks after an 11-year-old took a loaded 9 mm handgun to Beauclerc Elementary School in the San Jose community.

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Gualtieri told the board it is not a matter of whether a shooting will take place on campus, but when. There must be a commitment to training to mitigate the possibility that the next shooting will not be in Duval County, he said.

“Active assailant events, mass casualty events, attacks on schools could happen anywhere, anytime, anyplace to anybody,” Gualtieri told the board. “If you look at the history of this, and the objective evidence, it probably happens in places where people think it’s not going to happen more than in places where people think it is going to happen.”

Gualtieri stressed that communication among faculty and staff is one way to keep students safe. Other cost-effective methods include:

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  • Locking doors in instructional spaces when they are occupied by students.
  • Covering glass in doors.
  • Identifying the safest place in each classroom at the beginning of the academic year.

Gualtieri chaired the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was created in 2019 after a teenage gunman killed 17 people and wounded 17 others at the high school on Valentine’s Day.

When its findings were released in 2019, the commission implored school districts, law enforcement, mental health providers as well as city and county governments to embrace the findings and ensure the safety of schools in the state.

The sheriff says it is not a case of school districts and school administrators not caring about student safety, but the lack of a commitment to training.

Gualtieri says there is no profile of a school shooter. But, they are often boys or young men.

The boys who shot and killed five people in at an Arkansas middle school in 1998 where 11 and 13 years old; the teenage killers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999 were loners who wore trench coats and killed 14 people before dying by suicide; Nikolas Cruz was a troubled former student at Stoneman Douglas High School.

In suburban Houston, the young men who shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School in 2018 as well as the teenager who killed four people at Oxford High School in Michigan in 2021 were current students at the time of their rampages.

Because campus shootings often end in 10 minutes or less, Gualtieri suggested that Duval County Public Schools transition from Safe-School Officers to incorporating the Guardian program.

“I can’t live with dead kids,” Gualtieri said. “It’s not what you want; it’s not what you like; it’s what can you live with?”

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Florida Legislature created the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which allowed for teachers and other school employees to carry weapons on campus — after a thorough training program overseen by a local sheriff. Guardians could be faculty members who volunteer to undergo the training or school district employees hired for that specific purpose.

Duval County Public Schools has an in-house police force that reports to Superintendent Dana Kriznar. Greg Burton, the current chief of the Duval County School Police Department, has been on medical leave since September.

The district has not armed teachers, staff or administrators as part of the Guardian program. That could happen if both the School Board and Sheriff T.K. Waters agreed to implement the program.

Tuesday’s workshop with Gualtieri was a fact-finding session. Duval Schools does not immediately intend to incorporate the Guardian program.

Last month, Florida school districts instituted a new threat management program that would identify whether a student’s behavior or communication would cause a concern that they would commit violence or harm to another person.

The program is part of a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last year (HB 543) that calls for the creation of a statewide threat management portal that allows school districts to have a better idea of students with behavioral issues. The aim of the legislation, and subsequent Florida Department of Education guidelines, is to prevent violence on campus.

“Threat management is not about discipline,” Gualtieri told the Duval School Board. “Threat management is catching concerning behavior. And, concerning behavior is a deviation from baseline behavior and somebody recognizing it — whether it’s a parent, a student, a teacher, a principal or somebody’s school staff.”

The Pinellas sheriff says many of the school shooters have a grievance they cannot adequately cope with.

Gualtieri’s message was heard by officials at nearly a half-dozen Jacksonville charter schools as well as school board members from Nassau and St. Johns counties.

Student safety is more than a professional priority for board members. Board Chairman Darryl Willie and Vice Chairman Cindy Pearson have children enrolled in Duval schools. Board members Kelly Coker and Charlotte Joyce were on the faculty at local schools when the Parkland shooting occurred.

Joyce says listening to the parent of a murdered Stoneman Douglas student has motivated her to do anything she can to avoid another tragedy.

She said she supports the Duval district’s placing people in regular clothes to serve as guardians.

“Sometimes as time goes by we do forget,” Joyce said. “It was just the most life-changing moment for me.

“As you said earlier, (Sheriff Gualtieri), that campus had 13 buildings. That shooter did all that damage in less than four minutes. If you’re across campus and you’re the only one who has the means to stop this, could you have got there in the three or four minutes … if you don’t have the gun. You can’t win a gunfight with a knife.”

Toward the end of the four-hour workshop, board members heard public comment from speakers who frequently address them.

Melissa Bernhardt, a member of Duval County Citizens Defending Freedom, told the board she would like to see whoever is responsible for campus safety — whether it’s an in-house police department or uniformed officers — report to the Jacksonville sheriff, not the Duval County superintendent. Bernhardt, who is not currently a Duval Schools parent, added that she supports the Guardian program.

Other speakers forcefully decried the Guardian program.

Mandy Rubin is a parent and member of Moms Demand Action, an organization committed to passing stronger gun laws at the state and federal level. She pleaded with the board to couple mitigation efforts with other initiatives currently in place.

Rubin, Bernhardt and Gualtieri have different perspectives about how to ensure it, but all three agree that no child should ever be shot on campus again — whether in Duval County or elsewhere.

“The schools in the state of Florida are safer today than they were in 2018,” Gualtieri said. “But, we’re not where we need to be. We’ll never be at an end zone, at a finish line, at a stopping place when it comes to school safety. … The day you think you’re safe is the day you’re wrong.”

author image Reporter email Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at

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