New school safety bill doesn't only arm teachers

Published: May. 9, 2019 at 6:06 PM EDT
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Governor Ron DeSantis has followed through with his promise to sign this year’s school safety legislation.

It allows for classroom teachers to be armed, and increases funding for mental health and school hardening.

On Tuesday, students and members of Moms Demand Action delivered 13,000 petitions to the Governor, calling for him to veto the school safety bill.

“If my teacher chooses to be armed it’s not a choice for me and I still have to face the consequences of that,” said Tallahassee high schooler and member of Students Demand Action Quinn Holden-Schrock.

But Governor Ron DeSantis put pen to paper the very next day, signing the bill into law as soon as it officially arrived on his desk.

Starting October 1st, districts will have the option to arm teachers who volunteer and have undergone a psychological evaluation, background check and completed 144 hours of training.

“We have some districts that are planning to implement it. We have other districts that have passed resolutions saying they will not implement it,” said Andrea Messina, Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has staunchly opposed the change and says their focus now shifts to the local level.

“We want to put the pressure on our school board members and make sure that our super superintendents understand what the position of our educators is and that position is not to have a gun in school and we don't want to carry,” said FEA President, Fedrick Ingram.

But the law goes beyond arming teachers.

It also establishes the School Hardening and Harm Mitigation Workgroup, which will review best practices for school hardening to inform how the $50 million allocated for school hardening in the budget can be best spent.

There’s also $17 million for increased mental health services throughout the state.

While appreciative of the extra funds, Messina says part of the challenge now will be finding enough staff for mental health positions.

“And not just people who can provide those services, but we want high quality people. People who are certainly experienced,” said Messina.

And lawmakers like Senator Bill Montford, who doubles as the Executive Director of the Florida Association of District School Super Intendants, say those are issues that will continue to need to be addressed in future years.

“The number of children who come to our schools with significant issues is almost overwhelming and it's getting worse,” said Montford.

The law also requires schools to establish threat assessment teams made up law enforcement and counselors.

They’ll be tasked with stepping in when a student has been identified as posing a possible threat.

Districts will likely be taking the summer to prepare, so they can roll out some of the changes once the October 1st effective date arrives.

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