While my professional career in the NFL took me across America, I’m still from the Sunshine State, where I was born and got my education, kindergarten to college. That’s why I’m very concerned about Florida’s SB 7030, and its companion, HB 7093. This bill purports to be about “school safety,” but it would move our state in the wrong direction by actually making school kids in Florida less safe and less educated.
There is simply no research or evidence showing any school safety benefits from SB 7030’s approaches — such as putting guns in the hands of teachers and school support staff, creating “threat assessment databases,” installing anonymous reporting tools on all student laptops and creating workgroups that will harden our schools and increase surveillance of students. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected an amendment to SB 7030 that would have kept guns out of the hands of classroom teachers, but there is still time for both the House and Senate to get it right. However, right now HB 7093 goes farther by expanding zero tolerance referrals to law enforcement, which could include ordinary misbehaviors that are viewed as “threatening.”
I’m thinking back on my days as a kid in Florida’s schools, and I wonder — if these proposals were in effect back then, and I was rough-housing with my buddies — would I have ended up arrested, with my future prospects forever curtailed? Or if I was trash-talking on-line — saying “I’m gonna get you, now!” — would I end up in some “data base” accessible by law enforcement that then hindered my chances of graduation and later success? Or could I have ended up dead, at the hands of a scared, ill-trained and inexperienced gun-wielding educator? It gives me pause, and I hope it gives you pause, as well. Sadly, the data and research are pretty clear on one point: The kids most likely to be arrested in school, most likely to be considered a “threat” and most likely to be killed, are kids who look like I used to look and who look like my amazing sons, Anquan Jr. and Ashton now look — black and brown boys. I know I don’t want my sons attending schools that put them under constant surveillance, infringe their privacy rights, chill their speech and associations, and increase their risk of being caught up in the criminal justice system. I don’t want that for any of Florida’s children.
And I’m strongly opposed to the idea of taking precious Florida education resources that could reduce class sizes and support other approaches that improve our kids’ chances of success, in order to fund these unproven “school safety” approaches. Resources for our kids’ education are already far short of what’s needed — such a reduction in funding for education just does not make any sense to me.
So, if SB 7030 isn’t the answer, how could we actually make every student in Florida safer? Well, more than 250,000 Florida students attend schools without counselors, and no district meets the recommended student to counselor ratio of 250:1. So could Florida hire more counselors and other mental health professionals, to more effectively address mental health challenges our students are experiencing, before kids start to lash out at others? Students today are more likely to die of suicide than homicide; could Florida take real action to meaningfully address that threat to our kids’ lives? We keep hiring more police officers in schools, but — apart from mental health crisis intervention training — there’s actually no minimum required training for police working in our schools. Could Florida take action on that? The Legislature needs to protect every student’s safety.
Former NFL star Anquan Boldin is co-founder of the Players Coalition, which works with professional athletes, coaches and owners across leagues to improve social justice and racial equality in our country.