Get ready for armed teachers in classrooms | Editorial

Superintendent Runcie: ‘Don’t put guns in hands of teachers’

When teachers returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time since the massacre, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie called for more resources and support for educators — but drew the line at arming them.
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When teachers returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time since the massacre, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie called for more resources and support for educators — but drew the line at arming them.

Florida’s unhealthy obsession with guns is about to get worse. The Republican-led Senate voted on Tuesday to allow teachers in the classroom to be armed, an irrational reaction to last year’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

This is a dangerous approach that most teachers and school boards across the state do not support, and it would make children less safe in the classroom. Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is among those against it. “Teachers are not hired to carry guns,” he told the Miami Herald. He’s right.

The school safety bill, which passed 22-17, means state lawmakers ignored the wish of Parkland students who traveled to Tallahassee to urge them to defeat the bill, which now heads to the House. No hope of reason there, either. The House is expected to pass the bill, too and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated he will sign it into law if it passes.

Scott Beigel's mother pleads tearfully for reasonable gun control laws as she talks of how much she misses her son, who was a Geography teacher and cross country coach at Stoneman Douglas. Beigel was killed along with 16 others one year ago today.

The bill is an expansion of the guardian program created after the Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland massacre. The bill has moved swiftly through the Legislature. Senate Republicans unveiled revised school safety legislation last week and defeated an attempt by Democrats to remove the section allowing classroom teachers to be trained and armed on campus. That will leave it up to local school boards to react with some sanity and reject adding even more guns into their schools.

The Senate Bill 7030, cleared the floor with its most contentious piece intact: an expansion of the “Guardian” program created last year that would allow teachers to carry guns after undergoing screening and training by a sheriff’s office.

Just a year ago, then-Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature passed a comprehensive response to the Douglas High shooting that stopped short of arming classroom teachers. That new law requires armed guards at schools, and the state allocated $97 million for more school resource officers and $67 million for a guardian program that provides for training and arming school personnel, including some teachers.

Guess what? There wasn’t nearly enough money to hire all of the school resource officers that local districts wanted. Only $9 million of the $67 million for the guardian program was spent by September. Scott even asked legislative leaders before he was elected to the U.S. Senate to let the guardian money be used to hire school resource officers instead. They refused. That tells you something about their real motives.

Nothing has significantly changed in the last year to justify arming classroom teachers. Parents are not demanding that their child’s third-grade teacher or high school history teacher carry a gun. The systemic failures of the Broward County School District to address the persistent issues with Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, the former student charged with killing 17 at the school, have been exposed. So have the failures of the armed school resource officer and other law enforcement officers to immediately enter the building as the gunshots rang out.

According to Tuesday night's discussion, the entire School Board of Manatee County is against the arming of local teachers, an aspect of pending legislation in Tallahassee.

What has changed is the politics. New Gov. DeSantis favors arming classroom teachers. But it wasn’t a shortage of good guys with guns that allowed the death toll to reach 17. The governor and Republican legislators are out of step with most voters, school boards and their own communities. It will be up to local school districts to continue to reject this approach. It’s one thing to require armed police officers or security guards on every school campus. It’s quite another to arm teachers who should be focused on teaching.

This editorial was first published by the Tampa Bay Times and updated on Wednesday.

Protect Our Public Schools Manasota hosted a panel on school safety Tuesday evening, highlighting its opposition to SB 7030 and arming teachers.