Highway Patrol officers securing some schools
Board approves temporary measure for Palm Beach Co.
Students at eight Palm Beach County schools may have noticed new members of their school security teams this year: Florida Highway Patrol officers.
The officers, usually more visible on Interstate 95 and other Florida highways, are filling in while the Palm Beach County School District continues its search for school police.
The district has added 65 officers to its force this school year, working to comply with a state mandate to have at least one officer in every school. This is one of the requirements of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, passed by the state Legislature after the Parkland massacre last year.
The district still has 10 openings for full-time officers, Capt. Anthony Makowski said, thus the need for FHP.
“This is a temporary measure until the school district finishes hiring its own officers,” he said in an email.
The School Board on Wednesday agreed to spend up to $225,000 this year to employ the patrol.
The officers, who earn $65 an hour, are off duty and accompanied by a Palm Beach County school police officer. They get the same training as the municipal police officers who also have filled in at school sites while the district continues hiring, Makowski said.
All FHP officers have had active shooter training, FHP Lt. Alvaro Feola said. He said Palm Beach is the only school district in the FHP region of Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties to be hiring out the officers at the moment.
These schools have employed the officers this year: John I. Leonard High in Greenacres, Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, Royal Palm Beach High, Boynton Beach High, Forest Hill High in West Palm Beach, Starlight Cove Elementary in Lantana, Lake Worth High and Santaluces High in Lantana.
The school board on Wednesday also decided to appeal a Tallahassee administrative law judge’s ruling that the school district is responsible for supplying school police officers to protect charter schools.
Renaissance Charter School had asked the district to place officers on its six campuses in the county after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act went into effect last year. The district declined, saying it already distributed school safety allocations to the charters, which are public but managed privately.
Renaissance lodged a complaint with the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Judge John Van Laningham sided with Renaissance, saying the law “clearly and unambiguously” requires school boards and superintendents to place officers at all the public schools in their jurisdictions, including charter schools.
Highway Patrol officers are easily recognizable for their signature black campaign hats and taupe uniforms.