Protecting our Children: A look into the Gadsden County’s guardian training program

As shooting incidents continue to occur in schools nationwide, government agencies are constantly working to find ways to deal with these threats to children.

Following the 2018 mass shooting incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, located in Parkland, which claimed the lives of 17 people, the state legislature passed a bill creating the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program. 

The program was named after a coach who gave his life during the Parkland shooting to protect others.

In order to understand who the guardians are and what they do to protect local schools, the Gadsden County Times attended a training session for the local guardian program.

People travel from all over the state to attend the training.

Upon completion of the five-week training, they can serve in any school in the state.

Guardians are armed citizens who patrol a school campus, maintain security, and respond to threats such as active shooters.

They can be school employees who do the job in addition to their normal duties, or other members of the community, some of whom have law enforcement, military, and/or security backgrounds.

In any case, each guardian is required to complete a rigorous training program which is based on law enforcement standards, and includes at least 80 hours of firearms training.

Applicants must pass a background check, a psychological examination, and drug screening to even be considered for the program. 

The Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office recently started its 10th guardian training course.

The local guardian program is overseen by Col. Bobby Collins of the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office.

“The way it works in Gadsden County is, we train the Guardians, and they’re employed by the Gadsden County School District,” said Collins.

Collins also explained that the Gadsden County program has a contract with a Leon County security agency to train guardians for that county as well.

The Gadsden County Guardian Program was established in 2019, after the sheriff’s office applied for and received a grant from the Florida Department of Education, which provides for training, equipping, and employing Guardians.

“It’s a statewide certification that [the trainees] will attain after they complete our training,” said Collins. “The State mandates 144 hours in the curriculum, however, it gives the sheriff’s office the latitude to increase that. We saw a need to increase that, and add certain things, such as applying a tourniquet, and we have an additional 40 hours of active shooter and assailant training, so our program normally runs 190-194 hours, which far exceeds the state’s minimum mandate. Other parts of the curriculum are that you have to complete the 80 hour law enforcement basic firearms course. These guardians will be expected to complete the same law enforcement course that an officer completes at the academy. However, they have to complete it at a higher degree of proficiency. A law enforcement recruit is required to qualify with a proficiency of 86%. An instructor such as myself has to qualify at 96%. Guardians are expected to complete the course at the same proficiency rate as an instructor. The intent of that is to make sure they are well trained, and that they can really handle a firearm, because if they ever have to use it, it will be around children.”

In the Gadsden County Guardian Program, applicants receive their training in a classroom at the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office complex in Quincy, as well as on the shooting range at Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy.

Trainees also make use of a high tech virtual reality active shooter simulator, which can be viewed on a separate screen by an instructor for real time instruction in a safe but realistic environment.

Meet the guardian trainees

In addition to interviewing Col. Collins, the Gadsden County Times also spoke with a couple of the trainees in Guardian Class 10, to get an idea of who they are, why they want to be Guardians, and what skills they bring to the table.

Howard Arnold 

– Can you tell us a little about yourself?

– “I’m from Tallahassee, Florida, and I went to Leon High School. Right out of High School I joined the military, fulfilled my four year obligation, and then I went on to the Highway Patrol here in Florida for 16 years, and I also was a security officer with the Florida Lottery for three years.”

– How did you find out about the guardian program?

– “I had a friend at the sheriff’s office who knew I would be interested in doing something like this, and when I heard about it I decided to apply.”

– What interested you about the program?

– “The school shootings over the past 10 years. I have a passion for kids and kids safety. I have children, and I just couldn’t imagine what they went through, the survivors and those who were killed, and I just wanted to see what I could do to help with that.”

– What skills do you feel like you bring to the program?

– “I’m prior law enforcement, so I’ve been trained in many, many areas over my 20 year career in military and law enforcement combined, so I have a vast amount of experience, so I knew I could help.”

– Is there anything else you’d like to add?

– “I’m excited to be a part of this program. It’s something that’s definitely needed. We’ve got to get a hold of these school shootings and deter this violent activity. It’s totally unacceptable. Kids should be able to go to school and feel safe to learn and share that experience with their friends without having to worry about being killed on school grounds.”

Joshua Gilmore

– Can you tell us a little about yourself?

– “I have about 15 years of law enforcement experience. I’ve worked in many areas of law enforcement to include dispatch, the jail, uniform patrol, reserve volunteer hours at the schools, and my last few years were at the Leon County Detention Center as a correctional officer. I’m originally from Geneva, Alabama.”

– How did you find out about the Guardian Program?

– “I’ve known about the Guardian Program since it started, and I know it’s been a push to get guardians in our schools in Leon County, and Dynamics Integrated Security has taken that contract with the Leon County School Board to fulfill those spots where Guardians are needed. The sheriff’s office doesn’t necessarily have enough manpower to staff those schools, so the school board along with Dynamics has stepped up to the plate and helped get these guardians trained.”

– What interested you about the program?

– “”I have always enjoyed being around kids. I have a daughter who is nine years old and I want nothing more for her environment, along with all these other kids who go to school with her to go there knowing they will come home at the end of the day. When you’re out on the streets a law enforcement Officer, you sign up for that job. When you’re a child and you go to school, you don’t sign up to not come home at the end of the day, and I want to make sure that that doesn’t happen. 

– What skills do you feel like you bring to the program?

– “My prior Law Enforcement skills, and working in the schools and with the children. There was a short stint before going into Law Enforcement where I thought I maybe wanted to be a teacher, so I was a substitute teacher for approximately a year after I graduated. I think that I would be a good fit with my training, along with my 15 years of experience.”

– Is there anything else you’d like to add?

– “I think this is a great opportunity for those who want to take it seriously. We need people in our schools who are serious about protecting the children, and I think the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office has opened up the door for those who want to present themselves to take advantage of this opportunity. 

Getting involved

If you are interested in protecting children at school, and believe you have what it takes to complete the training, you can pick up an application from the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office’s front desk receptionist at 339 East Jefferson Street in Quincy. 

All applicants must be 21 years of age or older, have a High School diploma or GED, and have a valid Florida Driver License.  

For more information, visit the Gadsden County Sheriff online at


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