Breaking News
More () »

Manatee charter school is first in US to have guardians carry long guns

Manatee School for the Arts is the only school in the county to have a guardian who wears a high-powered weapon during the school day.

PALMETTO, Fla. — Thursday marks one year since the shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Since that time, schools have upgraded their security. One campus, a charter school in Manatee County, is sending a clear message they are ready to defend their school.

The principal didn’t want to have to wait for law enforcement to take action.

“If you walk in with a weapon if we can find you, you won’t last very long,” says Bill Jones, principal at Manatee School for the Arts. He backs that statement up with the guardians he hired. “I rejected 650 applicants.”

Jones’s guardians are former military, who saw action and are expert marksmen. 

“They are true believers in people’s right to be safe," he said. "They fought for our country and are dedicated to protecting, staff, students, me, everybody here.”

They wear that message every day. The charter school’s guardians are equipped with military quality weapons -- the same law-enforcement have. A semi-automatic long gun similar to an AR-15 that Jones says can take out a target at more than 150 feet, a Glock handgun, and a military grade vest. 

The cost is $200,000. Their mission? Keep Jones’ 2,100 students and staff safe.

RELATED: School districts around Tampa Bay release statements on what they're doing for school security

“They’re constantly looking, doing threat assessment. That’s all they are looking for,” Jones said. “If someone walks in shooting a weapon threatening kids, we’re not going to fool around. We’re not going to pause and ask questions. We’re going to shoot them. I’m sorry if that offends some people.”

If someone walks in with a gun to threaten students, Jones says “all bets are off.”  

“Take them down. Eliminate the threat. Eliminate the threat," Jones said. "If they die in the process, that’s unfortunate, but better them than one of our students, quite frankly.”

The decision to be aggressive with school security was made with parents and staff. 

Renferi Milian, 18, a senior at MSA, says he feels safer. 

“It’ll get the message across. No one will come and try to threaten the school,” Milian said.

Some students' families say the approach is too much.

“I don’t like to see the weapon, it gives a bad impression of a war," said Manuel Barcada, whose grandson attends MSA. "It’s not correct."

Jones response to his critics, “It’s never overkill if you come out on the right side.”

The Manatee School District uses guardians in most elementary schools and as additional support for SROs in some high schools. Most have military and law enforcement background, and some have both. 

MSA is the only school in the county to have a guardian who wears a high-powered weapon during the school day.

What others are reading right now:

Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10 News app now.

Have a news tip? Email tips@wtsp.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.