Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bill to expand existing school ‘guardian’ program
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law on Wednesday that will expand on legislation allowing teachers to be armed on school property.
The new law will allow more Florida teachers to carry guns in schools and is the latest response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last year.
Gov. DeSantis signed the bill in private and has yet to issue a statement on the matter.
The GOP-led Florida House of Representatives voted to pass the bill last week after being passed by the Republican-controlled state Senate the week before.
The new law is an expansion to the existing school “guardian” program and allows any teacher to voluntarily carry a weapon if their school district approves.
Before being allowed to carry a gun inside a school, volunteers must undergo at least 144 hours of police-style training, drug screening, and psychiatric evaluation.
According to Fox News, under previous the law, passed immediately after the February 2018 Parkland shooting, only teachers who had another role at school, such as sports coach, were eligible to carry weapons on campus.
The new law expands the program to make all teachers eligible regardless of whether they have a non-classroom role.
The bill was opposed by most Democrats and teachers’ unions, which argued that the introduction of more weapons in schools would place children at risk.
Those in opposition say the move could increase the dangers of mistaken shootings and lead to more violence against African-American students because of inherent biases.
Supporters of the bill said arming teachers is the best way to protect children from future school shooters.
Republicans emphasized that the program is voluntary, and that law enforcement in some rural districts could be 15 minutes or more from a school if a shooter attacks.
It’s unclear how many Florida school districts in the state will approve of expanding the “guardian” program.
Currently, 25 of the state’s 67 school districts take part in the program, but boards in some of Florida’s most populous counties have already opted out, preferring to use trained police officers for school security.
“Can you imagine somebody you taught potentially coming on the campus and you … protecting other children and shooting a child you once taught?” Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association told Fox News this week.
“We’re not thinking about all the mental issues that go into that.”
“We also have kids that come from places where school is the only safe space that they have,” Baxter-Jenkins said, “so turning that into a different scenario — we don’t think is healthy for kids mentally.”
The new law also contains a number of other school safety measures, such as wider disclosure of certain student mental health records and mental screening of troubled students.
It also mandates greater reporting of school safety and student discipline incidents and a requirement that law enforcement officials be consulted about any threats.