LEE COUNTY — Editor's Note: This story has been updated from its original version
Naples Daily NewsMakers
Watch this Sunday's edition of "Naples Daily NewsMakers with Jeff Lytle" at 10 a.m. on ABC7 for an interview with Collier County School Board chair Barbara Berry about guns in schools.
The sight of a uniformed Lee County sheriff’s deputy outside the office of her daughter’s school Wednesday was enough to bring Laura Drons to tears.
Just a month after 20 children were killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., she said she was comforted by the deputy’s presence at Pinewoods Elementary School in Estero.
“After seeing what that community went through, I don’t want to see anybody go through that again,” Drons said.
In part to put parents at ease, the Sheriff’s Office and school district have assigned deputies to all Lee County elementary schools, which previously were not covered. The deputies will not be at the elementary schools full-time, but will rotate among schools.
Announced Wednesday, the change was made in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Knowing deputies are at the schools will give parents peace of mind, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said.
“I don’t think anybody believes Sandy Hook will be the last shooting,” Scott said. “Every day, parents are dropping their kids off saying, ‘I hope it’s not at this school.’”
School board member Don Armstrong applauded the move.
“Any effort that we can take to make our schools safer is a positive step,” he said.
To cover the county’s 40 elementary schools, the Sheriff’s Office pulled 10 deputies from other assignments and gave them schools to rotate between. They came from assignments including the public service division, the sheriff’s youth activity league and gated community patrol, agency spokesman Larry King said.
Because their positions were included in the Sheriff’s Office’s budget for this year, the increased security at the schools comes at no additional cost.
The reassigned deputies will remain in place at the elementary schools until the end of the school year. School district officials estimated it would cost $4 million to post deputies in all schools. The Sheriff’s Office and school district split the costs of having deputies in schools.
Officials with the two organizations are in the process of deciding whether the deputies will stay beyond this school year, Scott said. Each will apply for federal grants to pay for permanent deputies next year, NBC-2 reported.
Ultimately, Scott hopes to have full-time deputies assigned to every school.
“If we do have deputies in every middle and high school, then why wouldn’t we want them in every elementary school?” Scott said.
Armstrong said he would support spending more money to make the deputies’ assignments permanent.
“I don’t know anybody that would be wiling to put a price on a student’s safety,” he said.
The option of putting deputies in elementary schools on a full-time basis is being discussed in the Collier County School District, where deputies are funded by the Sheriff's Office and assigned to more than one elementary school. Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said last week the Sheriff’s Office was looking into the associated costs.
She planned to meet with Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambrosk this week to discuss the idea, but no decision had been announced as of Wednesday.
At Pinewoods Elementary on Wednesday afternoon, Drons shook Deputy Angelo Vaughn’s hand and batted away tears.
“Your daughter will be fine,” he told her.
Vaughn spent the rest of the school day patrolling the grounds, looking for suspicious activity. He stopped to chat with students and give high-fives. The other benefit of having deputies at the schools, he and Scott said, is that they have a positive impression on students and make them feel safe.
“They need to feel like nothing’s going to harm them,” Vaughn said.