Florida teachers are likely to have the option of carrying a gun in their classrooms in the next school year.
The Florida Senate endorsed the proposal (SB 7030) in a 22-17 vote on Tuesday, with the Republican majority in support and the Democrats unified in opposition. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade County lawmaker, was the only Republican to oppose the bill.
The Senate action clears the way for the House to take up the bill and send it to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign the legislation.
The proposal to arm teachers was strongly opposed by Florida Education Association, the union that represents the majority of teachers in the public school system.
But the measure was part of a set of recommendations from a statewide task force that reviewed school safety challenges in the wake of the February 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. Seventeen students and staff members were killed.
The bill eliminates the current prohibition against arming classroom teachers as part of the guardian program. Some 25 school districts are now using non-classroom personnel as guardians on school campuses to replace or supplement security that was previously provided only by trained law-enforcement officers.
The proposal would let local school boards decide whether to allow teachers to become armed guardians. The teachers would participate on a volunteer basis. The guardians are trained under the supervision of local sheriffs.
Sen. Manny Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who sponsored the legislation, emphasized that local school boards and teachers would decide whether to participate in the guardian program.
“This bill does not arm one single, solitary teacher. What this bill does is provide the 67 school districts, the 67 different communities in the state, with the ability to do what they need to do to protect our kids,” Diaz said.
But Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who leads the state school superintendents’ association, said the effort to arm teachers was one of an increasing number of non-teaching duties being assigned to teachers.
Montford said teachers already face a host of challenges from students who have mental health issues, problems with their parents or other social service needs. He said teachers are “used to filling the gaps” when students need help.
“(But) I believe that it’s wrong to ask our teachers at the flip of a switch to change from being a teacher to a law enforcement officer, to be a teacher who is loving and kind to these children, to pick up a weapon and step outside and confront an active shooter,” Montford said.
He said lawmakers should “put our money where our mouths are” and provide funding for well-trained law enforcement officers at every school.
While the armed teacher’s provision was controversial, senators agreed on other provisions in the legislation, including efforts to improve school mental-health services, reporting safety incidents on campuses and evaluating threat assessments. There are also provisions to improve the physical security, or “hardening,” of school campuses.
The Senate bill now moves to the House, where similar legislation (HB 7093) has been awaiting a floor vote since early April.