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Opponents Of Arming Teachers Voice Concerns

More than a year after the Parkland school massacre, a comprehensive response on how to best prevent a future tragedy remains a work in progress. For many the question boils down to this: Are parents comfortable with placing their children’s safety in the hands of an armed teacher who has eight hours of active shooter training?

“Are they prepared to deal with collateral damage? Because it’s going to happen. Law enforcement, bystanders get killed by guns from law enforcement all the time. The way that we can live with it is that they’re trained,” said Wakulla County School Superintendent Robert Pearce.

He doesn’t believe arming teachers is the answer.

“These people are going to get 138 hours of weapons training and tactical training. Heavens forbid they accidentally shoot an innocent bystander. Are we going to have that same reaction to when that happens with that teacher and a weapon? Those are the questions that are not being talked about by lawmakers. But they need to be answered,” said Pearce.

In Wakulla County Pearce says School Resource Officers are armed with semi-automatic rifles. He says in their county this was widely accepted.

"Wakulla county is a red county. Most of the people who live here are card carrying NRA members and so weapons and guns don’t typically shock the majority of our public. Never was approached about any concern about placing those weapons on our campus. As long as they were in the hands of a license law enforcement officer which all of ours are," said Pearce.

But not every county is like Wakulla. Greita Patenaude is an ESOL teacher in Tampa. She told lawmakers in the House Education committee she wants a bigger focus 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.

And Patenaude says that’s not the only reason teachers shouldn’t be armed.

"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 Patenaude.

That drew a response from Palm Bay Republican Representative Randy Fine.

"I just want to make sure I understand are you stating here publicly that you believe that the other teachers that you work with are racist, anti-Semitic, islamophobic because you’ve got students of different backgrounds in your classroom and as a result they can’t be trusted," said Fine.

"I think that exist in every population," Greite. "Whether or not it’s in a cafeteria or a bus, or anywhere. That’s just part of society. And I want the people who are trained in that situation on a constant basis to be able to make these difficult decisions."

"Thank you. I think a little better of teachers,"said Fine.

"Thank you chairman, and 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,” said Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville).

Byrd says he hasn’t heard of racist teachers. But Lisa Weindorf is a former music teacher at Dinsmore Elementary School in Jacksonville. Weindorf’s contract was not renewed for the 2018-2019 school year after a district investigation found she used the n-word, and played slave games in class. 

She isn’t alone. Several teachers in Jacksonville over the past few years have made news headlines for racist conduct. And that kind of behavior isn’t limited to Jacksonville.

Despite concerns the legislation is moving forward. In the House, the bill is ready for a floor discussion. Lawmakers postponed it Wednesday but are expected to take it up again. Meanwhile The Senate version is heading to its last committee stop.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.