Proposals to expand the state’s guardian program to allow teachers to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds to prevent shootings like last year’s tragedy in Parkland that killed 17 students and staff members continues to make their way through the Legislature, although action on the Senate plan ran into a snag on Wednesday.
The House Education committee approved its measure Thursday morning following debate on whether teachers should be allowed to possess weapons on campus if they undergo extensive training by law enforcement.
Critics argue that teachers should not be included in the guardian program.
“There are going to be some unknowns, some unintended consequences,” said Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando. “I think allowing teachers to have guns in the classroom will actually put students and administrators at risk.”
Antone said he’s concerned that allowing teachers to carry guns would only add to the confusion and hysteria during a shooting incident.
“You have 10 guardians with guns shooting and they begin shooting innocent students, teachers and administrators. I mean how are you going to answer that situation?” Antone asked.
But supporters of expanding the program say the state isn’t requiring teachers to carry firearms at school. They say the bill leaves it up to local school boards to decide whether to participate in the program and then it would be up to teachers in those districts to volunteer. And, if they do volunteer, they would be required to pass a law enforcement certification program.
“The Legislature is not arming teachers,” insisted Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples. “The Legislature is giving authority to the local school boards to make a decision with respect to security in their districts and one of those options is to have the ability to have classroom teachers be a part of this program.
“That is an option. Those are the facts,” Donalds said.
The bill would expand the state’s Coach Aaron Feiss Guardian Program which was created as part of the school safety program passed by the Legislature last year following the Parkland shooting. The program was named for an assistant coach who was killed trying to protect students during the massacre and was intended to serve as a deterrent to prevent mass shootings.
After some heated debate last year, state lawmakers chose not to include teachers when it created the program. However the matter resurfaced earlier this year when the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, created as part of last year’s school safety legislation, recommended the Legislature reconsider including teachers in the guardian program.
“Nowhere in this legislation are we allowing anyone to arm anyone,” said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. “Because that involves, implies, a forcing. But we are allowing them to offer the option.
“The only person who can choose to arm a teacher is the teacher themselves,” Fine added.
A similar measure in the Senate was delayed on Wednesday in a committee due to what the chairman of the committee, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, called time constraints. Lee said the Senate bill will be heard on Tuesday.