Despite school boards' refusals, bill arming teachers goes to governor for signature

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Florida legislators made a bold move Wednesday, sending the School Safety Act, with a controversial component, to Governor Ron DeSantis for a signature.

The bill expands the voluntary “school guardian” program, which currently allows school staff, including teachers, to be trained and armed. The program was one of the recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, a group that met in the months following the Parkland school's massacre in 2018.

“This legislation gives us the option. It is consistent with the recommendations in the report and this will provide more, not less, protection to our children in the state of Florida,” said State Rep. Spencer Roach, (R-North Fort Myers).

But school district officials in the Bay Area, including Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Highlands, DeSoto, Hardee, Manatee, and Sarasota counties, decided not to arm their teachers. Some voted to pass resolutions to not arm teachers, while others made informal decisions without a vote.

“Teachers are not law enforcement officers. Teachers are educators,” said one teacher at a school board meeting about the subject.

Students in some areas came to school board meetings to express concerns. One said at a February school board meeting, “giving teachers firearms is not an effective measure to decrease gun violence.”

While Bay Area school officials said they are opting out, other counties in Florida could decide to move forward.

“When seconds matter, minutes don’t count. So, for those who agree to be well trained, why not?” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who served as a member of the Parkland commission.

Parents of Parkland victims also stood behind the recommendations of the commission’s report.

“The training is so intense. If the lunch lady could pass the training, I’d be okay with her carrying at the school,” said parent Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter, Meadow in the Parkland mass shooting.

Parents question what kind of gun teachers would carry and whether it be on them or stored in a safe place. After a deputy’s gun misfired at a Pasco middle school this week, parents said their concerns were validated.

“He is a trained officer and his gun went off in the middle of a cafeteria where there’s students. So, that’s not something we should put on teachers,” said parent Lisa Fox, who has a son at the middle school where the misfire occurred.

DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law.