PARKLAND, Fla. – More than a year after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and 17 injured, Florida lawmakers approved a controversial school safety bill to allow teachers to be armed on campus.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law.
But school districts in the state, even some that embraced the armed "guardian" program, which started last year and armed school staff members, have not embraced the law -- so it's unclear how many will implement it once it passes.
“…The type of teacher that's willing to sacrifice themselves to protect the child in their care deserves the option of a firearm when they put themselves between that child with a gun,” said Eric Friday, legal counsel for Florida Carry. “We've got a lot of teachers who already understand firearms. We have teachers that are former military former police officers themselves. There is no reason those people especially shouldn't be allowed to carry.”
But so far school districts have balked at the bill.
The bill is an expansion of the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian program, a one-year-old initiative named after the Parkland high school’s assistant football coach killed in the Valentine’s Day massacre. The program allowed some school staff, but not classroom teachers, to receive weapons training to carry a concealed weapon on school campuses if their school board and local sheriffs agree. The new bill expands the program to allow school teachers to be armed in the classroom.
If passed, it will still be up to individual school boards to vote on whether to implement the change.
Teachers who volunteer and are chosen by school superintendents would undergo psychological evaluations, background checks, drug screenings and at least 144 hours of police-style training.
About 25 of Florida’s 67 school districts, including Broward County, where Parkland is located, are taking part in the "guardian" program.
But school boards for some of the state’s largest counties, including Broward, say they draw the line on arming teachers.
“It’s very risky and dangerous,” said Erin Wiley, a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“For the school to think that kids won't know which teachers have the guns or where they are stored or which teachers are wearing the guns, that's just foolish," Wiley said. "Kids are curious, kids will find things out and when they do accidents are bound to happen.”
Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association, agrees. She said the responsibility put on teachers goes too far.
“Can you imagine somebody you taught potentially coming on the campus and you...protecting other children and shooting a child you once taught? We're not thinking about all the mental issues that go into that,” she said. “We also have kids that come from places where school is the only safe space that they have…so turning that into a different scenario -- we don't think is healthy for kids mentally.”
According to The National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida is among at least nine states allowing armed school staff.
Baxter-Jenkins added that if the state wants to throw an extra burden on its teachers, it should increase salaries and benefits for the educators, too.
Republicans and Second Amendment advocates in favor of the bill cited the 458-page report of recommendations released in January by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which investigated a wave of errors revealed in the wake of the shooting, including disregarded tips, lax school security policies and a delay in action by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office during the shooting.
The commission recommended arming teachers and called for increasing spending on security in schools.
“A year after lawmakers passed sweeping gun control in a knee-jerk reaction to Parkland, I’m glad they are finally stepping up to defend our children. The only way to end these tragedies is to end the so-called ‘gun free’ zones that are magnets for criminals,” said D.J. Parten, executive director of Florida Gun Rights. “In fact, 98 percent of mass shootings occur in gun free zones…this bill is a step in the right direction.”
In a statement to Fox News, Florida’s Department of Education said, “The department’s top priority is ensuring the safety and welfare of Florida’s students…We support the bill and hope it makes its way to Governor DeSantis.”
In addition to arming teachers, the follow-up bill would also create new guidelines on reporting school safety incidents, assessing students’ mental health and establishing standardized “threat assessment” tools for schools to keep records of students they feel may pose a “behavioral threat” to themselves or others.
Teachers unions, which are against guns in the classroom, said that if the governor signs the bill into law they will sue.