Florida lawmakers just took a huge step toward arming teachers in their state — against the wishes of the students who survived the Parkland mass shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018.
On Tuesday, state senators voted 22-17 in favor of expanding the existing Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program — named for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School coach who died trying to protect students — to allow teachers to bring guns into their classrooms. The program currently applies only to non-teaching staff like janitors and athletic coaches.
The bill is now expected to sail through the Republican-controlled House, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has already signaled his support.
School boards will still have the final say and would be required to vote on whether to arm their district’s teachers. Teachers who volunteer to carry guns would then be required to undergo a psychological test and a minimum of 144 hours of firearms training.
Former Gov. Rick Scott signed a watered-down version of the Guardian Program into law after the Parkland shooting as part of an omnibus school safety bill. But that version excluded anyone “who exclusively performed classroom duties.”
The idea of expanding the program came at the recommendation of a 15-member school safety commission at Marjory Stoneman Douglas that was formed after the February 2018 massacre, which left 17 dead. The commission’s 446-page report, released in January, reached a stark conclusion about how to prevent another tragedy like that: Put more guns in schools.
The proposal to expand the program touched off a fierce debate in Florida’s Legislature and beyond. Lawmakers representing rural parts of the state said that arming teachers would be an added layer of protection, given the distance between schools and the nearest police stations.
Parkland student survivors, who mobilized a national youth-led effort against gun violence after the shooting, have been unwavering in their opposition to arming teachers.
“A teacher’s focus should be on education, the job they signed up for,” former Parkland student Alyson Sheehy, who survived the shooting, said at a Senate committee last month.
According to a survey in February, 57 percent of Floridians were opposed to arming teachers, versus 40 percent in favor. The Florida Parent-Teacher Association carried out its own poll and found that 78 percent of the 1,400 parents surveyed were against expanding the Guardian Program, according to the Herald Tribune. The idea also has faced opposition from teachers' unions.
Cover image: Over 750,000 people gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., to protest lawmakers and politicians for change in gun laws. Many of those protesting were teachers, students and parents from Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images)