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Pinellas teacher pleads not guilty after bringing loaded gun to school

Betty Jo Soto brought multiple weapons to Starkey Elementary Monday, police said. She pleaded not guilty the next day.
Ex-Pinellas County teacher Betty Jo Soto, 49, was arrested on charges that she brought a gun and knives to Starkey Elementary School on Monday and was fired by the Pinellas County School District, authorities say. She faces two misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon, according to the Pinellas County Schools Police. She has pleaded not guilty to the crimes. [Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office]
Published May 23
Updated May 23

Betty Jo Soto, the Pinellas County teacher arrested and fired for bringing a loaded gun to school on Monday, has pleaded not guilty.

The plea was entered Tuesday, county court records show, by Tampa attorney Paul L. Figueroa. She faces two misdemeanor charges of carrying as concealed weapon, according to Pinellas County Schools Police.

Figueroa was not immediately available for comment Thursday, said a woman who answered the phone at his office at Tison Law Group.

Walking out of jail after posting bail Monday night, Soto, 49, told reporters to “ask DeSantis” about why she brought the gun and two knives to Starkey Elementary School.

READ: A Pinellas teacher brought a gun to school. Was it a political statement?

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law a widely debated that will allow Florida’s school districts to let teachers carry guns as soon as October. Though Soto has a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the state, the law does not allow her to carry such weapons on campus.

The legislation approved by DeSantis requires teachers to be approved by the local school board and screened and trained by a sheriff’s office.

DeSantis’ communications director, Helen Aguirre Ferré, responded to Soto’s comment on Twitter Wednesday, saying the now-former teacher “violated the law and should not be allowed near a school.”

The governor himself does not appear to have made a public comment on the incident.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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