Proposal to arm teachers moves forward in Florida Senate, despite opposition
By SKYLER SWISHER | The Sun Sentinel | Published: March 26, 2019
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A proposal to arm teachers advanced along party lines in the Florida Senate Tuesday, despite opposition from students and educators who say it won’t make schools safer and could put children in harm’s way.
A Senate panel approved the measure in a 5-3 vote — just over a year after a gunman opened fired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and killed 17 students and staff.
Teachers would be allowed to voluntarily carry guns if they complete training and local school boards agree.
Republicans said allowing teachers to carry guns could save lives when most mass shootings are over in minutes, while Democrats argued professional security — not teachers — should be responsible for protecting schools.
State Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said the Parkland shooter could have been stopped if a teacher had a gun.
“They were just sitting ducks — with no chance,” he said.
The Parkland shooter spent fewer than four minutes gunning down students and staff.
Alyson Sheehy, 19, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told senators how law enforcement stormed the school with guns drawn when she was a student there on Feb. 14, 2018.
She said a teacher with a gun would have been viewed as a threat, given that she witnessed an officer tackle a student frozen in fear.
“Teachers’ focus should be on education — the job they signed up for,” she said. “Arming teachers … only adds more variables in a complicated equation.”
The proposal (SB 7030) would expand the state’s Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program created in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
Named for an assistant football coach killed in the massacre, the program allows non-instructional employees to carry guns if they undergo training and pass a psychological evaluation.
Last year, state lawmakers opted not to include most classroom teachers on the list of school employees authorized to carry weapons.
The state commission investigating the Parkland shooting recommended in December expanding the program to include teachers.
The bill’s sponsor — state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah — said districts will decide whether teachers should carry guns. School systems also have the option of stationing a law enforcement officer at each school, a costlier option.
Twenty-five districts participate in the guardian program, including Broward County.
Educators would need to pass a psychological evaluation and complete at least 144 hours of firearms training to carry a gun on campus.
Gay Valimont, a volunteer with the gun-control group Moms Demand Action, said she didn’t think that training was sufficient. She told lawmakers of mishaps involving teachers who were carrying guns.
A substitute teacher’s gun went off in a first-grade classroom in Alabama. Last year, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas science teacher left a gun in a bathroom stall near the Deerfield Beach Pier.
“We don’t want teachers to have to pull a double duty,” Valimont said. “There is zero evidence arming teachers would make our schools safer.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, introduced an amendment that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of a classroom with an armed teacher, but it was defeated.
While debate has focused on arming teachers, the bill also features other items aimed at school safety, including greater reporting of school safety incidents and expediting services for students with mental health issues.
A similar school safety bill that includes arming teachers is advancing in the House.
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