TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow more classroom teachers to carry guns in school, the latest response to last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The Republican-led House voted 65-47 on Wednesday to send the bill to GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it. The measure expands an existing school "guardian" program to allow any teacher to volunteer to carry a weapon if their local school district approves.
Teachers who want to carry guns would have to undergo police-style training and undergo psychiatric evaluation. Under current law, only teachers who also have another role, such as sports coach, are eligible to carry weapons on campus.
The bill comes after 17 people were killed by a rifle-toting shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission was created after the mass shooting to look into system failures and come up with recommendations to "enhance school safety and strengthen school district accountability," Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, sponsor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Public Act of 2018 said in a statement.
One of the commission's recommendations was to expand the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program to allow more teachers to serve as school guardians.
"I am very pleased to see this critical school safety legislation pass the Senate today. When we established this Commission last year, I made a commitment to take these recommendations seriously," Galvano said. "This legislation continues our efforts to proactively enhance coordination between education, law enforcement, and community mental health resources to ensure at-risk students receive the help they need before a tragedy occurs. The bill also sets forth a plan to help school districts implement the security and school hardening provisions of the legislation we passed last year in an expedited manner to help prevent those who would seek to harm our children from gaining access to our schools."
Despite the ruling, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said in a statement that the School Board has already voted on a resolution against arming teachers in their district.
"The Broward County School Board voted on a resolution against arming teachers in March 2018. We do not believe arming teachers is the best way to make our schools safe," he said.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony sent a letter to Runcie and school board members Wednesday, highlighting his support not to arm teachers.
"Although I commend their effort to address the rampant school violence we have seen in the last few years, I vehemently believe that Florida legislators missed the mark by proposing to arm teachers," he wrote in part. "There is no evidence that supports the notion that arming teachers would deter a shooter, while the threat posed by untrained individuals with guns in crisis situations is widely recognized."
School districts in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties are also opposed to arming teachers.
"Introducing additional firearms into schools will not add additional security. Therefore, it is our decision not to opt in to the expanded guardianship program," Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
Manuel Oliver, who lost his son, Joaquin, in the Parkland shooting, told Local 10 News reporter Sanela Sabovic that guns are the problem to begin with and to keep arming people, especially in a classroom, is a recipe for disaster.
"I never thought that was a good idea when I heard it the first time," he said. "We keep bringing solutions that will protect our kids from the next shooter, so we assume there will be a next shooter and we don’t do anything about that."
Oliver, who spoke to Sabovic from his son's bedroom in Coral Springs, proudly showed us Joaquin's artwork and all of his prized trophies. He said he lost his best friend to gun violence and the first step to protecting children in the classroom is to eliminate the weapons, not add to them.
"This is the room where my son used to be every single night. We had fun in here. Now he's not here anymore. Now you are telling me the solution for another family to not go through what we are going through is to arm a teacher? Shame on you," Oliver said. "What if the teacher misses the shot? What if the kid gets the gun that the teacher should be holding? Where is that gun going to be?"
Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter, Meadow, in the shooting believes differently. He applauds the measure and told Local 10 News that it's an additional layer of security.
"Anyone that can go through it -- like I said -- a lunch lady, a crossing guard, any teacher, a gym teacher -- anyone that wants to volunteer and go through that intense training and actually pass would be an asset to have at a school," Pollack said.