Florida school districts balk, governor to sign armed teachers bill

The option of having teachers in classrooms who are trained and willing to protect students with a handgun is popular with many parents and school commissioners. You wouldn’t know that by the response of some school districts in Florida though, given the reactions as Governor Ron DeSantis prepares to sign a bill into state law allowing armed teachers in classrooms.

Elected officials and school boards, along with parents and students, are searching for the best ways to secure schools in the aftermath of mass shootings. Florida, for example, suffered the horrific tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland which produced an anti-gun movement among young people financed by gun-grabbing liberal groups. Last December, though, the Stoneman Douglas Commission voted in favor of arming teachers. It has now been more than a year since that terrible day that left 17 people dead and 17 injured. Florida lawmakers approved a school safety bill that allows armed teachers in classrooms and Governor DeSantis is set to sign it into law. Florida school districts are pushing back on the law.

After the Parkland mass shooting, a one-year initiative was implemented in Florida allowing school staff to receive training in order to be able to carry a concealed weapon on campus. This initiative is called the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian program. Named after the heroic assistant football coach killed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the program only addressed training staff, not classroom teachers. Trained staff are allowed to carry a weapon on campus if the local school board and sheriff agree to it. The program is not mandatory and only those adults who want to participate are trained.

The new law, however, expands on the program and allows teachers to arm themselves in the classroom. Some school districts, even some that participated in the guardian program, are not on board with arming teachers. Gun rights groups are speaking up in favor of expanding the program to teachers.

“…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.”

When signed into law, the bill’s implementation is up to individual school boards. They will vote on whether or not to participate.

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.

A prominent liberal anti-gun group is leading the charge to deny armed teachers in Florida classrooms. If signed into law, Florida would join eight other states allowing armed teachers. The other states are Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Tennesse, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho.

“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.”

These are emotion-based arguments from Moms Demand Action and the teachers association director. Understandable, to be sure, when addressing the safety of school children but the only way to protect them is with clear eyes and fact-based actions. The hard truth is something we often hear uttered after violent gun crimes – a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy with a gun. Defenseless teachers facing a mentally unbalanced armed attacker is not the way to go. The teachers should be given the opportunity to fight back and protect their students if they so choose. Armed security guards and staff members can’t be everywhere at any given time, especially in large schools. The declaration of schools as gun-free zones has not stopped shootings. That’s because criminals or mentally ill people don’t follow laws. Gun-free zones are a feel-good measure. How many times do we have to learn that lesson?

This expanded bill includes other school safety measures yet the teachers unions pledge to sue if Governor DeSantis signs it into law.

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.

Florida’s legislative session ends Saturday. The bill is on Governor DeSantis’ desk.