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Nearly Half Of Florida Districts Approve 'Guardian' Program Arming School Personnel

An empty classroom with blue metal chairs in three rows
Bonnie Brown
Flickr/creative commons

The number of Florida School Districts that want teachers to carry guns is growing. Nearly half the districts in the state have signed up for the so-called “Guardian” program and more have signaled they intend to do so. 

“There are 30 school districts now that have the agreement between the superintendent and the sheriff," Chief of Staff Alex Kelly recently told the State Board of Education. He noted another 13 districts are interested in the program. Since that time, Okaloosa, in the Panhandle, has become the latest to signal it's participation, bringing the number of districts with the Guardian program to 31. 

The Guardian Program allows teachers and other school officials to carry guns. It requires the approval of both the local school board and superintendent. Participants must undergo more than 140 hours in firearms and safety training, and take psychological exams and undergo additional background checks.

Another recent signee is Bay County Schools. Superintendent Bill Husfelt says he made the decision to approve the Guardian program because nine years ago, the school board was held hostage.

"There’s no way anyone understands the helplessness you feel when someone has a gun pointed at you and you have no way to protect yourself or intervene or anything.”   

He said that incident, coupled with the school shooting in Parkland, prompted his decision.

“There were people standing in front of the gunman, protecting and shielding children with their bodies," Husfelt said. "And my concern is, I know in my district our teachers would do anything to protect a child from getting shot. And I think the least we can do is help those that can be trained…to give them a fighting chance.” 

Last year’s Valentine’s Day Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was among the worst in the nation. Seventeen people were killed, another 17 injured. Florida lawmakers created the Guardian Program in the wake of the shooting and named it after Coach Aaron Feis, who used his body as a shield to protect students and was killed. The program was initially for personnel other than teachers but lawmakers expanded it this year to include them.

Participation is voluntary, and controversial.

Shortly after the Florida Department of Education announced the number of districts planning to and participating in the Guardian program, state board of education member Michael Olenick went on record with his concerns about it.

“I just see, in my mind, it’s wrong. It’s a debate we will have forever, but in my heart of hearts, I think it was the wrong decision," Olenick announced near the end of the meeting. He went on to quote statements from Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony. 

“One of his quotes was, ‘having untrailed personnel is more likely to create a tragic scenario where innocent people could get injured or killed. Having more guns in an active shooter situation can make it more difficult for police officers to ID the shooter'.” 

Tony was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis who backs the program, and Broward, where Parkland and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located, is also one of the 31 districts that have it in place. 

Critics of the program maintain parents and teachers don’t want it. But the number of districts signing on to the Guardian Program suggests otherwise. The Department of Education is suggesting a majority of  school districts will eventually have the program in place, leaving those that don’t, in the minority. 

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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