A flurry of proposals for making Florida schools safer

03/17/2013 12:54 AM

03/17/2013 10:33 AM

The national debate that erupted following last December’s horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, leaving 26 children and teachers dead, ranged from gun control to mental health to school safety.

In Tallahassee, where this month lawmakers started their annual 60-day legislative session, a flurry of bills have been introduced to specifically deal with school security. Among the proposals:

Concealed weapons at schools (SB 1418, HB 1097): The bills allow superintendents and principals to designate school personnel to carry concealed firearms on school property. The House version requires schools without gun-toting personnel to commission school safety officers.

Lockdown drills (SB 790, HB 989): The bills distinguish lockdown drills from evacuation drills such as fire drills. The Senate version requires lockdown drills take place as often as emergency evacuation drills.

Independent taxing district (SB 514, HB 873): The so-called School Safety Act authorizes counties to create special taxing districts to provide funding for school security and mental health services.

Safe Schools Trust Fund (SB 1208, HB 325): The bills would require the taxes collected on firearms and ammunition go toward school-safety programs.

The Miami Herald sought the opinions of members of HeraldSource by asking their thoughts on allowing teachers with concealed weapons permits to carry weapons on campus and letting counties tax for school security and mental health services. The group is part of the popular Public Insight Network and helps The Herald explore timely issues in the news.

Voices

A sampling of the comments on whether teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons to school:

Kevin Gleason, of Hollywood

“Yes. If a teacher has a concealed weapons permit, and desires to bring their firearm to school, they should be permitted to do so. We should assume that the trained individual is in the best position to assess the risks associated with any particular environment. Safety cannot be assured by the presence of some school safety officer who is sitting in an office.”

Paulette Atkinson-Grant, of Homestead

“No. I didn’t become a teacher or a concealed weapons carrier to bring my gun into the classroom as a means to protect myself or my students. I don’t want that responsibility. I need to worry about academics — not guerrilla warfare while I’m on the clock. I know that over the years there has been an increase in gun violence in our schools but arming us teachers is not going to solve that. Hire well-trained armed security to handle that. They are so concerned with keeping payroll low that everyone’s safety is at risk. You should never have more than 3,000 students in a school and only five security guards to man the ship.”

A sampling of the comments on whether local school districts should levy a tax to pay for school security officers and more mental health services:

Kathleen Pham, of Miami Shores

“Yes. I would support such a tax. Additional mental health services would definitely improve school safety because many problems would be resolved before they came to violence. Budget cuts have eliminated or reduced counselor services in many schools, precisely when an increase in gun violence indicates that more such services are, in fact, needed.

Paul Hunt, of South Miami

“No. State and federal governments need to assume more responsibility and fund mental health services at an adequate level — probably 10 times the current funding. But given the nature of mental illness, even much better services could not completely ensure no such incidents.”

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