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This School’s Plan for Keeping Kids Safe Involves Combat Vets and Rifles

It's a highly unusual plan strongly supported by the principal but doubted by many security experts.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scene Of February Mass Shooting That Killed 17. GETTY

A heavily armed man is patrolling the hallways of a Florida school. His only job? Prevent a mass shooting.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that Harold Verdecia, a 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan has been hired as the first guardian at the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida. Verdercia wears body armor and carries a Glock 19X handgun, but it’s his Kel-Tec “Bullpup” rifle, loaded with exploding rounds, that’s raising eyebrows.

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting a year ago this month, the Florida legislature passed a law requiring all schools to have armed guardians on campus. School districts and charter schools can choose how to arm those guardians, with most choosing 9-millimeter handguns.

MSA Principal Bill Jones outlined to the Herald-Tribune a specific scenario — shooter armed with a rifle, clad in body armor, looking to cause maximum damage — in justifying the unusual move of arming his school’s guardian with a rifle.

Verdercia completed 144 hours of training facilitated by the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office. He also went through extra training to carry the rifle on school grounds.

Security experts, however, seem skeptical of Jones’s insistence that a semi-automatic rifle is appropriate for the job. Walt Zalisko, a retired police chief and police management consultant, told the Herald-Tribune that the school would be safer with its rifles locked away and its guardian building relationships with students, not singularly focused on a mass casualty event.

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Michael Dorn, president of a company that has performed security assessments of dozens of school systems in Florida, told the New York Times that a long gun is a more dangerous weapon for someone to take from an officer and that it’s harder for an officer to subdue and handcuff a suspect when he’s carrying such a gun.

Jones doesn’t seem to mind the criticism. He’s currently reviewing applications and hopes to hire a second rifle-toting guardian soon.