Just over a year since the Parkland school massacre, a comprehensive response on how to best prevent a future tragedy remains a work in progress, at least in the Florida Legislature. Before a key committee Thursday, the question boiled down to this: would parents be comfortable with placing their children’s safety in the hands of an armed teacher with eight hours of active shooter training? Although some insisted the answer to that question would most likely be “No!”, lawmakers kept moving in that direction.
Last year it was considered a compromise when the legislature decided not to allow classroom teachers to be armed. This year they want to make it an option.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Naples) explains.
“The legislature is giving authority to local school boards to make a decision with respects to security in their districts. And one of those options is the ability to have classroom teachers be a part of this program, that is an option," said Donals.
Opponents to the idea like Grieta Patenaude an ESOL teacher in Tampa say they don’t want the option, and that the legislature would be better off focusing on other ways to prevent crimes.
“Please look into technology building infrastructure to mitigate risk. Bullet proof glass, auto locking doors, smart badges these are all ideas from my students. Arming teachers who are on the clock to teach, not in protection and attack mode place us and our students at increased risks of being killed,” said Patenaude.
Beverly Hills Republican Representative Ralph Massullo pushed back.
"Do you have any evidence that arming individuals that volunteer to go through a selection process? Mentally, physically and training to be properly armed and use firearms correctly, has created any danger in schools in Florida," said Massullo.
Scott McCoy of the Southern Poverty Law Center says there is no evidence supporting either side.
“I cannot tell you that there is an example where a guardian has shot a kid at school. But, I also can’t find any evidence to show that a guardian in the school has prevented a shooter from coming in and killing one in the school," said McCoy.
Eustis Republican Representative Jennifer Sullivan says there is info that shows the program here in Florida works.
“25 districts who have put the program in place, now were several months into the school year, we have 743 guardians, and there has not been a parade of horrible that have happened. The what if that I want to know is what if coach Aaron Feis was armed. What if he hadn’t had to use his own body as a means of defending students, what if then," said Sullivan.
Representative Donalds believes the current program works fine, and that expanding it to teachers would not result in the hypotheticals some describe. He says the 144 hours of training requirements will prepare teachers to handle these situations.
“80 hours of commission certified firearm training, this is starting in line 125 of the bill. 16 hours of instruction in a precision pistol, eight hours of discretionary shooting instruction using state-of-the-art simulator exercises. Eight hours of instruction in active shooter or assailant scenarios. Eight hours of instruction in defensive tactics. Twelve hours of instruction in legal issues. Twelve hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training program," said Donalds
But the League of Women Voters’ Nicolette Springer believes that time needs to be drastically increased.
“Only 8, eight of those 144 hours are for active shooter training. 8 hours, that’s one day and were expecting our teachers to have a gun and protect their children in the classroom," said Springer.
Tampa ESOL teacher Patenaude doesn’t want teachers armed for other reasons.
I don’t want the other teachers looking up my black, brown, Muslim students whatever other is. And they’re not constantly being trained for this," said Grieta.
She says she knows there are racists in this society and doesn’t doubt some are teachers. That drew a response from Jacksonville Republican Representative Cord Byrd.
“Representative fine asked my question for the speaker to point out the racist colleagues that she has because I’m not aware of any teachers that I know that exhibit those racist behaviors," Byrd said.
But some aren’t worried about racism, undertrained teachers or hypotheticals. They are worried about simply being and living in a space where they are not comfortable. The Leagues Nicolette Springer again:
“But it’s not voluntary for the teachers who live in the districts who’s decided to arm teachers. Because they don’t get to voluntarily move, they don’t get to voluntarily go to another district. And just because they want to move into a district that doesn’t arm teachers. If you live in that district that arms teachers those teachers are now forced to work in a school where there are going to be guns," said Springer.
But Representative Byron Donalds believes most of the worry is that armed teachers will not be trained and will cause harm to those around them. He says that’s mostly emotion talking and that the recommendation made today was one drawn from facts.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission, its purpose is to get out of the heart wrenching, tragic emotion of what happened on Valentine’s Day last year. And get to the facts of what actually happened where the failures were and what the recommendations are to try to prevent another tragedy like what happened at Marjory stoneman douglas. Those are the facts," said Donalds.
In the end, the vote fell on an 11 to 5 party line split and out of all public testimony not one was in support of the idea of arming teachers.