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Pinellas School Board takes a stand against arming teachers

Pinellas County School Board member Joanne Lentino did not vote in favor of a statement that only trained law enforcement will have guns in schools. The informal vote passed 6-1 at a board meeting Tuesday.
Published Mar. 14, 2018

The Pinellas County School Board held yet another informal vote solidifying their stand on school safety measures at a board meeting Tuesday.

The board previously voted 6-1 in support of a ban on assault weapons and unanimously voted in favor of Gov. Rick Scott's $500 million school safety plan.

On Tuesday, board member Linda Lerner asked the board to announce a consensus that only trained law enforcement should have guns in schools in schools. Board members and district officials have expressed that they do not want to put firearms int he hands of teachers or school staff.

Board chair Rene Flowers said she received an email from Duval County School Board chairwoman Paula Wright, who asked Florida board members to release a joint statement asking state legislators to provide the liability costs for arming teachers and school staff.

"The upcoming vote to solidify the arming of teachers and or staff is troubling on many fronts," Wright wrote. "The financial responsibility for the liability has not been discussed in this hurried process. School districts cannot handle the liability of this bill."

Pinellas School Board members did not discuss liability issues at the time of the vote on Tuesday. Lentino was the sole no vote.

She said that community members have told her that elementary students, "when they come to school and there's a gentleman or a woman that's carrying a gun that they may notice, I think that dynamic begins to change," Lentino said. "It was told to me that it puts children off. They don't have that same relationship with that person who's carrying that gun on campus. I think that's an area of sensitivity that we need to pay attention to."

She added, "I'm very sensitive to those issues and we … don't want them to not trust and we don't want them to not rely."

Lerner said she was confused by Lentino's dissenting vote. "Were you believing there should be people other than trained law enforcement in schools?" she asked her.

Lentino said she did not want to engage in a back-and-forth at the dais, but said after that elementary school children who currently do not have a regular school resource officer may be frightened by an officer with a gun at school. She said the statement approved by the board gives "carte blanche" permission to all law enforcement in any school.

"Schools that don't have an SRO, they need to do some work in those schools," she said after the board meeting. "It shouldn't be somebody who's never been there before."

Lentino clarified that she also does not support arming teachers or any school staff.

Flowers clarified that the board's statement meant that the board does not support arming staff other than already qualified police officers and school resource officers.