Sheriff’s deputies soon could be fixtures in all schools in Okaloosa and Walton counties.
The sheriffs in both counties are working with school administrators to figure out how to expand the resource officer program already present in middle and high schools to elementary schools.
The concept, which has been discussed on and off for years in both counties, is surging following last week’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“It’s hard for us to accept that this is the world we live in,” Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson said. “God forbid we ever have any kind of instance (of violence). I don’t want to say, ‘What could we have done?’ ”
The plans, which are still being discussed, would assign one deputy to each elementary school during school hours. The cost for the additional deputies is still being discussed, but it hasn’t stopped Adkinson or Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley from putting available staff at the schools since Monday.
“We’re going to do it and we’re going to worry about the funding afterwards,” Ashley said. “I don’t care where the money comes from … we’ve got to make this a priority.”
School superintendents in both counties said they were reaching out to their school boards to present proposals later for approval.
“Nobody wants to think about a horrible thing happening, but we cannot not do this,” said Mary Beth Jackson, Okaloosa’s superintendent of schools. “Parents are worried sick.”
She joined Ashley in saying she plans to do whatever it takes to find the funding because nothing was more important than student safety.
“I don’t care if we have to have a bake sale, we have to find a way to make it happen,” she said.
Jackson said she plans to bring the issue to the School Board at its Jan. 14 meeting. Right now, she said she likely will propose that the district find money to pay half the cost for the new school resource officers.
Walton County Superintendent Carlene Anderson said district officials will meet with Adkinson right after the holiday break to discuss how to approach the issue. Suggestions must go before the School Board for final approval, she said.
Officials in Santa Rosa County could not be reached for comment Thursday.