Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Should parents be able to ‘opt out’ their children from having an armed teacher?

The bill that would expand the “Guardian” program to allow teachers to carry guns passed another committee along party lines Tuesday.
Hernando County Sheriff's deputy Cory Zarcone, 28, talks to Aleigha Dziedzic, 5, right, during breakfast time in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School on March 7, 2018. Hernando County leaders approved a spending plan to add 10 school resource officers to area schools. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
Hernando County Sheriff's deputy Cory Zarcone, 28, talks to Aleigha Dziedzic, 5, right, during breakfast time in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School on March 7, 2018. Hernando County leaders approved a spending plan to add 10 school resource officers to area schools. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
Published Mar. 26, 2019
Updated Mar. 26, 2019

A bill that would allow classroom teachers to carry guns passed yet another committee Tuesday in the Florida Senate along party lines, leaving it with just one more committee in each chamber before it reaches the floor.

But amidst the emotional debate surrounding the bill, a new idea emerged that caught the attention of a prominent Republican senator.

Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami proposed an amendment that would allow parents to “opt out” their child from a classroom with an armed teacher. She likened the proposal to parents’ rights to opt their children out of certain testing and physical education requirements.

“I hope that we consider the parents’ choice in all this and the students, many of them spoke saying they’d like to have the choice.” she said.

The amendment was ultimately voted down, but Sen. Tom Lee, R - Thonotosassa, called the idea “provocative” and said it’s “something we should consider.”

The bill, Senate Bill 7030, builds upon the landmark law passed last year after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. That law created a new program to arm school “Guardians,” who are school staff who choose to undergo training by local law enforcement to carry guns in schools and respond to active shooters.

Many of the lawmakers on the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee are also proponents of voucher programs and other measures that give parents choices for their students’ education, especially the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Manny Diaz, R - Hialeah.

As for Taddeo’s proposal, “It’s a quite complex bill,” Diaz said. “I think it’s an interesting concept. I think it needs to be worked out further before we make a move.”

Diaz said the bill is a necessary step to advance the Legislature’s efforts last year, which excluded teachers who “exclusively perform classroom duties,” instead allowing coaches and administrators to participate in an effort to compromise. But Diaz also told the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee that many teachers are already eligible, including those who are hall monitors or sponsor the school chess club.

“The change we’re making here is not as drastic as folks are making it out to be,” he said.

But rough estimates provided by several districts bring that assertion into question. According to Hillsborough County Schools, only about 2,400 of the districts’ 14,800 teachers have “non-classroom assignments,” such as resource teachers, instructional mentors, special education staff, librarians, guidance counselors and academic coaches. Pinellas County schools estimate about 83 percent of their instructional staff fall into the “exclusive” classroom teacher category, and Pasco put that figure at 88 percent.

Figures from Miami-Dade and Broward school districts, which are on spring break this week, were not immediately available.

Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa was twice unsuccessful in removing language that expanded the guardian program to include classroom teachers. Districts can choose whether to participate in the guardian program, and teachers must volunteer to be armed.

Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, said he was struck by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s reversed position on arming teachers. Gualtieri has said his position against arming teachers changed after his tenure on a commission which evaluated the systemic failures leading to the Parkland shooting.

That commission, led by Gualtieri, ultimately recommended that teachers should be armed, which Diaz said inspired his bill.

“I don’t like guns in schools but Sheriff Gualtieri convinced me,” Hooper said. “If I never thought we’d have a school shooting again I’d vote no in a heartbeat, but we all know that’s not going to happen.”

In addition to the measure that would allow teachers to be armed, the bill would also beef up state oversight over districts’ reporting of school safety requirements, expedite services with mental or behavioral disorders and require county sheriffs to train teachers if the district chooses to participate in the guardian program.

The packed committee room — standing room only — was mostly filled with students, teachers and activists vehemently opposed to allowing teachers to carry guns. Among them was Alyson Sheehy, who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High last year.

“Now we’re here, over a year, since the worst day of my life,” she said. ”As of last week two more students, friends, died.”

“Teachers’ focus,” Sheehy added, “should be on education, the job they signed up for.”

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. A large monitor displaying a map of Asia and a tally of total coronavirus cases, deaths, and recovered, is visible behind Vice President Mike Pence, center, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, as they tour the Secretary's Operations Center following a coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) [ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP]
  2. Florida lawmakers are investigating why the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s board of director paid its former CEO, Tiffany Carr, more than $7.5 million over three years. These photos of Carr are from 2004 (left and right) and 2009 (center.) [Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during Clay County Day at the Capitol, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) [STEVE CANNON  |  AP]
  4. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., speaks during a news conference about the "Emmett Till Antilynching Act" which would designate lynching as a hate crime under federal law, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday. Emmett Till, pictured at right, was a 14-year-old African-American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
  5. Eric Welch, a Florida inmate, died on Feb 12 after an accident at his work program [Florida Department of Corrections]
  6. The Times is tracking who Florida elected Democrats are endorsing for president in 2020. [TARA MCCARTY  |  Tara McCarty]
  7. Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, San Petersburg.
  8. A signature analysis of two documents signed by Melody Keeth, former board chair of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, show signatures from separate documents signed on the same day were nearly exact, as demonstrated in the combined signatures on the third line. Legislators are disputing the authenticity of one of the documents, noting that it includes information that didn’t exist until a year after it was purportedly signed by Keeth. [Florida House of Representatives]
  9. The question before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee is whether Florida is following its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality education to public school students.
  10. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, pauses as he speaks in North Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday. [GERALD HERBERT  |  AP]
  11. From left, Democratic presidential candidates former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C., co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
  12. State Attorney Bernie McCabe, right, has been working from home after suffering an "adverse health event." [Times (2018)]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement