Florida School Safety Panel Approves Proposal To Arm Teachers

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A Florida state panel that will issue school safety recommendations to the legislature next year overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal to allow teachers who have concealed-weapons licenses and undergo ”guardian” training by local law enforcement to carry guns in classrooms.

The decision by the 14-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, created following the March adoption of Senate Bill 7026, the legislature’s $400 million response to the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, reverses a previous compromise to exclude classroom teachers from the guardian program.

The commission has been meeting through the summer and fall to recommend changes to SB 7026 and hammer out ways to implement its components, including the controversial guardian program, which allows school districts to hire vetted volunteers trained by county sheriff’s departments who are not full-time classroom teachers to be armed on campuses.

But in a 13-1 vote Thursday in Tallahassee, the commission said the guardian program does not go far enough and should be expanded to invite teachers who have concealed carry licenses to volunteer for the training.

“There are simply not enough cops to go around,” commission chair Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told reporters. “So, if there are not enough cops to go around, then the best way to comply with (SB 7026) is to use the law to its maximum and allow the guardians to perform that function.”

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The proposal is among recommendations in a 407-page draft report scheduled to be completed by Jan. 1. Expanding the guardian program as outlined in SB 7026 would require legislation to be enacted.

The law requires each school in the state to have at least one armed school resource officer, usually a sheriff’s deputy, or a vetted guardian trained by local law enforcement agencies.

About two dozen of the state’s 67 school districts have opted to go with guardians because they are less expensive than hiring deputies, which they would have to do in many counties where sheriffs maintain they do not have the manpower or money to assign deputies to man each school.

According to the report, one of the program’s flaws in SB 7026 is it states sheriff’s departments “may” provide the training, rather than “shall” do so, making it voluntary for local law enforcement agencies to participate.

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A number of sheriffs across the state have declined to provide guardian training, even after local school boards have requested it, citing liability concerns from insurance providers.

Commission member Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who is the president of Major County Sheriffs of America, was not buying fellow sheriffs opting out of the program because of insurance concerns.

“What we have right now is the St. Bernard tail wagging the chihuahua dog,” Judd said. “I’m dad-gum passionate about this. I’m recommending we change ‘may’ to ‘shall’” in the commission’s recommendations to the legislature.

The commission unanimously approved Judd’s suggested change, which would require sheriff’s departments to provide guardian training if requested by local school boards.

Commission member Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was among the 17 murdered at Parkland High School on Feb. 14, endorsed Judd’s amendment.

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“I don’t think anyone, including the sheriffs of this state, should have any wiggle room to get around the legislative intent of (SB) 7026,” he said. “Sheriffs ‘shall’ establish a guardian program.”

Allowing trained, vetted teachers with concealed carry licenses to carry firearms in classrooms drew quick rebuke from gun-control advocates.

Allowing teachers to have guns is “a bad idea,” the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said in a news release.

“Instead of arming teachers, whose only job should be to teach our children, we call on the legislature and Gov.-elect (Ron) DeSantis to allocate proper and recurring funding for programs that include much-needed counseling and intervention services for young people along with de-escalation techniques and better environmental designs for Florida’s schools,” the group’s statement said.

If lawmakers adopt the proposal, Florida would be the 15th state where there are armed teachers in classrooms, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, joining Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Another 16 states give local school boards the authority to arm school staff, but none have chosen to do so.

A version of this article previously appeared on Watchdog.org under the headline, “State school safety panel approves proposal to arm teachers in classroom.”

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