Duval School Board says no to armed teachers despite proposed bill

Most of Duval’s School Board members said Wednesday they won’t authorize teachers or other staff to be armed in schools, even if the state Legislature passes a bill making that possible.

Five of the seven board members said they will instead sign a resolution early next month that supports Gov. Rick Scott’s school safety proposals, instead of the proposals currently being discussed in Florida’s House and Senate. Two board members were absent.

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The board members all said they like that Scott’s call for spending $500 million to put an armed law enforcement officer at every public school and extra officers for every 1,000 students enrolled in each school.

Scott’s proposal does not call for arming teachers or other school staff, while the state House and Senate bills do. President Donald Trump also is championing arming school employees.

Proponents of the legislation say arming school employees will deter would-be shooters from targeting schools. They point to a “sentinel” program in Polk County, which so far has armed educators at a small private college.

The Senate and House plans would require volunteers on school staffs to take more than 130 hours of specialized training, to carry a weapon inside schools, and to agree to only use it to engage a school shooter or intruder. The armed school workers would be deputized by county sheriffs.

Duval School Board members said they normally can only implement policies or curricula that are research-based and considered “best practices.” There is no research that says arming teachers and other school staff, such as cafeteria workers, bus drivers or maintenance crew members is “best practices.”

Board member Rebecca Couch said she worries that state lawmakers will spend less money on school resource officers if schools use the volunteer security force. She also questioned whether bonuses would make it worth risking more lives.

“As a parent, I’m tired of hearing the Legislature say anytime there’s a need for resources for our most fragile citizens, ‘Get some volunteers,’ ” she said, noting that legislators rely on armed security, not volunteers, for their safety.

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It’s important to know the details in the bills being discussed, said board member Lori Hershey.

For instance, in Polk County, the sheriff said he will remove from his program any armed educators who become engaged in school fights or other disputes; they’re only supposed to be engaged when there’s a school shooter. That means there will be fewer able-bodied adults on hand if there are school fights or mass disruptions, she said.

Also, during a Code Red emergency, an armed educator is supposed to go toward the threat, rather than first hiding students and locking classrooms, as other teachers would, board members said.

The board also questioned whether, in an emergency, responding officers will know which school employees are supposed to be armed. Some versions call for the armed staff person to wear their gun conspicuously.

“There are a thousand ways that something could go very very wrong, with someone suffering serious injury or death,” said Board member Ashley Smith-Juarez.

Board member Warren Jones also warned that an armed teacher or school staff member could “go postal” and pose a danger to students.

News in north Georgia seemed to bear that out. A Dalton (Ga.) High teacher was armed with a gun and barricaded himself for 25-minutes at his school Wednesday. Police arrested him after he allegedly fired a shot but no one was seriously injured. A student hurt her ankle during the evacuation.

Read the full story on the Florida Times-Union