Senate approves bill that would allow classroom teachers to carry guns

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCJB)-- The Florida Senate has approved an expansion to the school safety package originally passed following the Parkland Shooting.

The provision that would allow for teachers to be armed was kept in, to the disapproval of teachers unions and gun control advocates.

Following the Parkland shooting, lawmakers considered including classroom teachers as part of its guardian program but left them out.

Now many have had a change of heart.
“I wish we had a law enforcement officer on every floor of every school. We do not and we cannot,” said Senator Ed Hooper.

ESE teacher Lissa O’rourke from St. Johns County worries about unintended consequences.

“ESE students sometimes have a hard time self-regulating and that could become a dangerous situation if there was some kind of gun in the classroom,” said O’rourke.

Debate on the Senate floor echoed those concerns.

“Teachers accidentally discharging a weapon, a lost or dropped gun,” said Senator Gary Farmer.

Sponsor Senator Manny Diaz says it gives districts an option.

“The most contentious part of this bill in this chamber is completely optional,” said Diaz.

Ultimately the legislation was approved along party lines in a 22-17 vote, with only one Republican voting no.

$57 million in unspent funds for the guardian program from last year will be carried over in this year’s budget, but if it’s not used to arm teachers or staff, it can’t be spent on anything else.

So far 25 counties have established a guardian program.

14 more have expressed an interest.

However, in districts that have chosen not to participate, coming up with the money to hire enough traditional school resource officers has been a challenge.

Michelle Dillon, President of the St. Johns Education Association says her county had to ask the local city commission to make up the difference.

“It shouldn't be done in this half baked manner where you're offering teachers to be armed,” said Dillon. "It should be fully trained law enforcement officials.”

The bill still needs to pass the House.

Less than two weeks remain for the chamber to act.

Under the bill, teachers who volunteer to carry a gun would have to undergo a psychological evaluation and 132 hours of training.