1. News
  2. /
  3. Gradebook

Florida lawmakers approved arming teachers. So who tracks them?

"This is the dumb, backwards stuff that we do here,” one Florida lawmaker said.
Students and community activists marched in Tampa last year after the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The attack killed 17 people and gave rise to Florida’s school guardian law, which this year was changed to allow classroom teachers to be armed. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure into law. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Sep. 16
Updated Sep. 18

TALLAHASSEE — Since Florida state lawmakers created a program that allowed school employees to be armed, and then expanded it earlier this year to allow classroom teachers to participate, 1,084 of these “guardians” have been assigned to schools across the state.

That number also includes employees who districts have hired solely as security personnel.

But what the state doesn’t track is how many of those 1,084 employees are classroom teachers who have elected to carry a gun on campus, said Damien Kelly, director of the Office of Safe Schools in a presentation to the Senate Education Committee on Monday.

“That’s not data that we ask (districts)," Kelly said. “We don’t ask for any identifying information at all."

That ambivalence on the part of the agency that ostensibly oversees the program drew fire from lawmakers who never supported the idea of arming teachers in the first place.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, told the Times/Herald on Tuesday that for the state to not be closely tracking this program is “b------t.”

“For you to implement a program that does more harm than it does good — and we don’t even know who does it — is absolutely asinine and it’s counterproductive to what the agency for school safety is supposed to be doing,” he said. “This is the dumb, backwards stuff that we do here.”

During Monday’s meeting, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, asked if Kelly could eventually provide lawmakers a specific number of classroom teachers who have chosen to arm themselves.

“Yes sir, we can get that,” Kelly replied.

According to Kelly, 11 districts have said they would like the option to arm instructional staff through the program, which was created after the February 2018 Parkland shooting that left 17 people dead and 17 more injured. Of those 11, however, Kelly said he was unsure how many have chosen to go through the process to implement it, which would mean allowing teachers to volunteer for screening and training through their local sheriff’s office.

Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, who chairs the committee and who sponsored the bill that allowed teachers to carry guns, said he’s not bothered by the lack of clarity on the numbers of teachers and districts participating in the program because it’s not required in law.

“I think that’s less important,” he told reporters. “The public may want to know as to how many teachers are we arming but the truth of it is the entire idea behind this is really more of the air marshal concept where you have a person who is trained and responsible at the school.”

This discussion over the state’s responsibility over its program to arm teachers and other staff comes at a time when the effort to implement both the 2018 and 2019 laws responding to the Parkland shooting is in full force, but far from completed. State work groups, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, districts and the Department of Education are all in the midst of complying with the dozens of new requirements, ranging from school infrastructure to mental health services to shooter drills.

Jacob Oliva, chancellor of the division of public schools, told lawmakers that the state has begun training teachers to recognize students experiencing mental health or substance abuse problems, which was mandated by the post-Parkland legislation. However, it could take several years to complete training for all school staff — while those still waiting are taking introductory online courses on the same topic, he said.

“We haven’t arrived,” Oliva said. “We still have work to do."

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the post-Parkland commission, said "there are a lot of wheels in motion" and discussed the added difficulties when some districts "pick and choose" which parts of the law they want to follow. He said some districts have been slow to implement active shooter drills, while others had failed to disseminate their active shooter policies to their staff.

He emphasized that the state is not required to track how many teachers have volunteered to be armed, but that districts would have that information because the implementation of the program is largely managed at the local level.

“There is ... required reporting on the part of any guardian to the Department of Education that discharges a firearm or other things including misconduct,” Gualtieri said. “The fact there is nothing being reported is a very good thing for those of being us objective and fair and want to see it succeed.”

At the local level, though, there have been major hiccups. Palm Beach county recently made headlines when the district outsourced the training of its school security guards to a private company, which was later discovered to be unqualified. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has said he will re-train the recruits, and the district has filed a lawsuit to get its money back from the company.

In Broward County, the district decided to take control over one charter school and considered doing it to a second after the schools were found to not have an armed guard on campus, a requirement under state law.

Gualtieri said he will be recommending that the Legislature revisit the school safety laws again in 2020 to clear up what happened in Palm Beach and ensure no district attempts anything similar.

This legislative session should not be about inventing new requirements for schools, he said, but rather about ensuring “we get things right.”


  1. Chanell Newell, a reading teacher at Woodson K-8 School, is a finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year. HCPS  |  HCPS
    The winners will be announced on Jan. 23.
  2. A school bus travels the early morning streets of Pasco County on the way to the first day of classes in 2017.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  3. Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Adam's fight over school restrooms came before a federal appeals court Thursday, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Fla., won a lower court ruling last year ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. The district has since appealed. RON HARRIS  |  AP
    The closely watched case of Drew Adams, once a high school student in Florida, is heard by a three-judge panel in Atlanta.
  4. Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco, on the left, present their latest pay request to the district's bargaining team during talks on Oct. 24, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    Teachers have yet to reach a deal on their contract.
  5. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. It has met just once more since then. The Florida Channel
    Lawmakers have yet to set an aggressive agenda beyond talk of teacher pay as the 2020 legislative session nears.
  6. FILE - In a Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 file photo, transgender teen Drew Adams, left, leaves the U. S. Courthouse with his mother Erica Adams Kasper after the first day of his trial about bathroom rights at Nease High School, in Jacksonville, Fla. The transgender student's fight over school bathrooms comes before a federal appeals court Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Drew Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, won a lower court ruling in 2018 ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP, File) WILL DICKEY  |  AP
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. A bird's-eye view of USF St. Petersburg, which this week announced a new member of the Campus Board. She is Melissa Seixas, a Duke Energy executive who earned her master's degree at USF.
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  8. An LGBTQ Pride march participant walks under a large rainbow flag in New York earlier this year. School Board policy regarding LGBTQ students has been a frequent topic of discussion in recent months in Pasco County. CRAIG RUTTLE  |  AP
    The discourse is more civil and respectful, two weeks after a session that many deemed hate-filled and vile.
  9. The Florida Legislature so far has has left Gov. Ron DeSantis to set most education policy priorities for 2020.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. "Miss Virginia," a film about school choice, will be screened at the Tampa Theatre on Dec. 10.
    “Miss Virginia” will be playing at the Tampa Theater on Tuesday.