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Florida school districts are rejecting armed teachers. Lawmakers say that’s okay.

The bill moving through the Legislature would let districts choose, not force them to participate.
Hillcrest High School junior Bret Gillespie, junior, call for teachers to be armed during a counter-protest as classmates participate in a walkout to protest gun violence, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, Idaho Falls, Idaho, one month after the deadly shooting inside a high school in Parkland, Fla. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)
Published Apr. 26
Updated Apr. 26

Throughout the debate over teacher participation in Florida’s armed school guardian program, proponents have made one thing clear: No one is attempting to require teachers to carry guns.

“This bill does not arm one single solitary teacher,” Sen. Manny Diaz said as he closed debate over SB 7030, a wide-ranging school security measure that quickly became identified as the teachers with guns bill.

Rather, Diaz noted, the proposal allows school boards to decide whether to participate in the guardian program, and superintendents to determine who will be selected for that role if their district takes part. Teachers also would have to volunteer, survive a background check and undergo more than 130 hours of training to join, if their board and superintendent approve.

Without even waiting to see whether the House agrees, a number of school district leaders have begun announcing their plan to take the Senate at its word, refusing to accept teachers into any armed guard system. That includes some of the 25 districts that already accept guardian funding, but have chosen employees to serve solely as guards rather than have others take on the added responsibility.

The latest is Citrus County.

And it’s not alone.

Locally, Pasco and Hillsborough district leaders have reiterated their opposition to the idea of armed teachers. The Pinellas County School Board took a similar stance more than a year ago, when the idea first surfaced, as did the boards in Leon County and Broward County, where the Parkland high school massacre gave rise to the conversation.

Also chiming in throughout the discussion have been Polk County, St. Johns County, Sarasota County, Manatee County, Duval County, Nassau County and Orange County, among others.

On the other side, some districts are planning to take advantage of the proposal, including Baker County, whose superintendent has said the idea would provide a first line of defense against a shooter.

In many ways, the Senate provision — which still needs House support before it could go to Gov. Ron DeSantis — would apply similarly to the Legislature’s 2012 bill allowing school boards to decide whether they want to permit students to deliver “inspirational messages” during school events.

Districts could do so if they wished, but they weren’t required to adopt such policies. In that case, not one board adopted an “inspirational messages” rule.

Time will tell how many districts will allow teachers into the guardian program.

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