A new law in Florida will expand the state’s guardian program to allow public school teachers to carry firearms on campus beginning October 1.
The law builds on a statute passed shortly after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The previous law allowed staff members serving in non-classroom positions, such as sports coaches, to carry weapons on campus.
The new law implements recommendations of a state commission formed after the Parkland shooting, including the commission’s recommendation that teachers who volunteer and undergo extensive background checks and training be allowed to carry concealed guns on campus if their school district approves. Interested teachers will be required to undergo at least 144 hours of police-style training, psychiatric evaluation, and drug screening.
In addition, the legislation allows schools to disclose some student mental health records to government officials, and to screen at-risk students and report the results to government officials. The law creates additional reporting standards for school safety and student discipline incidents and requires schools to inform law enforcement officials about any threats that arise.
The bill passed the state Senate by a 22-17 vote, and the House by a 65-47 vote. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on May 8.
Strengthening Local Control
Twenty-five of Florida’s 67 school districts participate in the guardian program that allows non-classroom school staff members, trained and equipped by county sheriffs’ offices, to carry firearms, including Broward County, where Parkland is located. However, school boards for some counties, including Broward, say they will not arm classroom teachers.
Allowing school districts and teachers to make decisions on their own is a commendable policy, says Lennie Jarratt, project manager for the Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.
“Giving schools and the teachers themselves the decision as to whether they would like to carry a weapon for self-protection and the protection of their students is a great idea,” said Jarratt. “Teachers and schools should be the decision makers, not the legislature.”
Recommends Child Safety Accounts
Another policy could do much to improve school safety further, says Timothy Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute.
“The best way for Florida legislators to help alleviate safety concerns in schools would be to pass a universal child safety account (CSA) program,” Benson said. “Florida already has something similar with the Hope Scholarships, but this would be an education safety account program instead of a tax-credit scholarship, and on a far grander scale.
“CSAs would allow parents to pay tuition and fees at qualified private schools, as well as for tutoring services, textbooks, transportation costs, and so forth, if their child is facing a safety concern at school,” Benson said. “These issues include bullying, sexual misconduct, harassment, verbal abuse, fighting or physical assaults on the student, and concerns over gang activity or drug use at school.”
Jake Grant ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.