Arm­ing teach­ers an emo­tional de­bate

Here’s what you need to know about the is­sue and what Florida’s law­mak­ers are do­ing about it

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Skyler Swisher

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — It’s an emo­tional de­bate that could change how school se­cu­rity is han­dled in Florida.

Just over a year af­ter the dead­li­est school shoot­ing in Florida’s his­tory, state law­mak­ers are con­sid­er­ing al­low­ing teach­ers to carry guns on cam­pus.

The mea­sure has drawn stu­dent pro­test­ers to the state Capitol with the wounds still fresh from the Feb. 14, 2018, mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land.

They say the idea of their teacher hav­ing a weapon makes them feel scared — not safer.

Oth­ers say stu­dents will con­tinue to be “sit­ting ducks” dur­ing the next school shoot­ing if Florida doesn’t change its ap­proach.

Why do sup­port­ers say we need to arm teach­ers?

Sim­ply put — most mass shoot­ings are over in min­utes.

Pinel­las County Sher­iff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Park­land school shoot­ing, ini­tially op­posed al­low­ing teach­ers to carry guns on cam­pus.

He changed his mind af­ter see­ing videos and re­view­ing other ma­te­ri­als re­lated to the shoot­ing. The shooter stopped to reload his

AR-15 semi-au­to­matic ri­fle five times, pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity for some­one with a gun to stop him.

The Park­land shooter spent fewer than four min­utes killing 17 stu­dents and staff and wound­ing

17 oth­ers. He shot 23 peo­ple on the first floor of the school’s 1200

Build­ing in 1 minute, 44 sec­onds — be­fore school re­source of­fi­cer Scot Peter­son even got to the door, Gualtieri told state law­mak­ers.

“If we are go­ing to have a dif­fer­ent out­come … we need to do it dif­fer­ently,” Gualtieri said. “If we keep do­ing what we’ve al­ways done we are go­ing to get what we al­ways got and what we got is not good.”

Gualtieri said there aren’t enough po­lice of­fi­cers avail­able to sta­tion one at each school.

So why does the idea have peo­ple up­set?

Op­po­nents say ed­u­ca­tors should be fo­cused on teach­ing — not pro­tect­ing stu­dents.

“Arm­ing teach­ers does not rep­re­sent what teach­ers, par­ents or stu­dents want or need,” said Aalayah East­mond, a se­nior at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School and sur­vivor of the Park­land shoot­ing. “It’s just a dried-up ban­dage try­ing be used on a large wound. It does not work.”

Con­cerns abound that a teacher’s gun could end up in the hands of a stu­dent or that an ed­u­ca­tor might use ex­ces­sive force if a fight breaks out in a class­room.

Gif­fords Law Cen­ter, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that fa­vors gun con­trol, ar­gues in­tro­duc­ing more guns to schools would ac­tu­ally make stu­dents less safe.

The group com­piled a list of 60 in­ci­dents where teach­ers, school se­cu­rity of­fi­cers and oth­ers mis­han­dled guns at school. A sub­sti­tute teacher in Largo had a loaded hand­gun fall out of his waist­band while help­ing el­e­men­tary school stu­dents do cart­wheels, ac­cord­ing to one re­port. A deputy’s gun went off when a stu­dent grabbed his gun dur­ing a strug­gle at a school in Michi­gan, caus­ing a bul­let to ric­o­chet into a nearby wall, ac­cord­ing to an­other re­port.

Fur­ther­more, school shoot­ings deaths are ex­traor­di­nar­ily rare. Re­searchers es­ti­mate that only about 1 per­cent of the nearly 40,000 firearm deaths in 2017 oc­curred in mass shoot­ings with the ma­jor­ity of gun deaths be­ing sui­cides.

Kara Gross, leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Florida, said law­mak­ers should fo­cus more on in­creas­ing men­tal health ser­vices in schools, an is­sue that is far more likely to af­fect stu­dents in Florida than a mass shooter.

Does this mean my child’s teacher will have a gun?

Maybe. The pro­gram is vol­un­tary for school dis­tricts, and teach­ers would have to pass a psy­cho­log­i­cal eval­u­a­tion and un­dergo train­ing. It does not re­quire that all teach­ers carry a gun or man­date ed­u­ca­tors be armed.

Lo­cal school boards ul­ti­mately can de­cide un­der the pro­posal whether to al­low teach­ers to carry guns. Op­po­nents, though, say the pro­gram is not vol­un­tary for stu­dents — who will have no say over whether they are in a class­room with an armed teacher.

What is manda­tory is that each pub­lic school have at least one armed se­cu­rity of­fi­cer, a law adopted by state law­mak­ers af­ter the Park­land shoot­ing.

The courts have ruled that re­quire­ment also ap­plies to char­ter schools. Dis­tricts have op­tions in how to achieve the man­date.

One op­tion is to sta­tion a sworn law en­force­ment at each school. That’s a costlier path and a dif­fi­cult one to achieve be­cause of the short­age of po­lice of­fi­cers. Palm Beach and Mi­amiDade coun­ties — which have their own school po­lice forces — went that route.

School boards and sher­iffs can also cre­ate a “guardian pro­gram” that al­lows non-in­struc­tional school em­ploy­ees to be armed. But class­room teach­ers — with a few ex­cep­tions — were ex­plic­itly pro­hib­ited from car­ry­ing guns.

Twenty-five school dis­tricts par­tic­i­pate in the guardian pro­gram. All but two elected not to arm ex­ist­ing em­ploy­ees, Gualtieri told law­mak­ers.

Broward County par­tic­i­pates in the guardian pro­gram, but it doesn’t plan to arm ex­ist­ing em­ploy­ees. In­stead, it de­cided to re­cruit se­cu­rity of­fi­cers to serve as guardians.

Ap­pli­cants must be at least 21 years old and have a min­i­mum of two years of mil­i­tary or sworn law en­force­ment ex­pe­ri­ence to hold the newly cre­ated job, which pays $25,000 to

$33,000 a year.

The state set aside $67 mil­lion in non­re­cur­ring funds and $500,000 in re­cur­ring dol­lars to help fund train­ing for guardians, who are en­ti­tled to a one-time

$500 stipend for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram.

Which school em­ploy­ees can carry a gun al­ready un­der state law?

The leg­is­la­tion passed af­ter the Park­land school shoot­ing al­ready al­lows some school em­ploy­ees to serve as guardians in ad­di­tion to their reg­u­lar du­ties.

Ex­am­ples in­clude li­brar­i­ans, coaches, ad­min­is­tra­tors and coun­selors. The leg­is­la­tion pro­hib­ited em­ploy­ees “who ex­clu­sively per­form class­room du­ties.” Ex­cep­tions ex­ist for teach­ers of a Ju­nior Re­serve Of­fi­cers’ Train­ing Corps pro­gram, along with teach­ers who are a cur­rent ser­vice mem­ber or a cur­rent or for­mer law en­force­ment of­fi­cer.

How much train­ing is re­quired?

State law re­quires guardians com­plete at least 132 hours of firearm safety and pro­fi­ciency train­ing. That in­cludes 16 hours of pre­ci­sion pis­tol train­ing, eight hours of dis­cre­tionary shoot­ing in­struc­tion on a sim­u­la­tor, eight hours of ac­tive shooter sce­nar­ios, eight hours in de­fen­sive tac­tics,

12 hours on le­gal is­sues and

12 hours on di­ver­sity train­ing.

Pro­gram par­tic­i­pants must achieve an 85 per­cent pass rate on the firearms train­ing and then com­plete firearms qual­i­fi­ca­tion on at least an an­nual ba­sis.

The pro­posal that would ex­pand the guardian pro­gram to class­room teach­ers in­creases the train­ing re­quire­ment to at least 144 hours.

How much money is bud­geted for armed se­cu­rity at school?

Leg­is­la­tion passed last year set aside $162 mil­lion in state fund­ing to help dis­tricts meet the re­quire­ment of hav­ing an armed guard at each school.

Law­mak­ers set aside $75 mil­lion for stu­dent men­tal health ser­vices as part of the leg­is­la­tion.

Where does the pro­posal to arm teach­ers stand?

The pro­pos­als that would al­low the arm­ing of teach­ers (SB 7030/ HB 7093) have ad­vanced through com­mit­tees and are await­ing de­bate by the full House and Se­nate.

Both Se­nate and House lead­ers, along with Repub­li­can Gov. Ron DeSan­tis, are sup­port­ive of the idea.

But op­po­si­tion is mount­ing. In ad­di­tion to stu­dent protests, the Every­town for Gun Safety Ac­tion Fund is vow­ing to spend $200,000 on cam­paign, in­clud­ing dig­i­tal and print ads, to de­feat the bills.

SKYLER SWISHER/SUN SEN­TINEL

Stu­dents gather at the Florida Capitol on Wed­nes­day to protest bills that would al­low teach­ers to be armed in their class­rooms.

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