Ever since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed the lives of 17 people, the debate about how to prevent future mass shootings has been rekindled.
After lengthy debate over the weekend, the Florida Senate yesterday approved SB 7026 and sent it to the House in hopes that it reaches Governor Scott’s desk before the end of the legislative session March 9.
One part of the bill that has been a source of controversy since it was first brought to the floor is the plan to arm teachers. Under SB 7026, teachers and coaches who are not exclusively in the classroom may undergo training for a school guardian certificate that would allow them to carry a concealed firearm on school campus.
The program is called the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named for the coach who lost his life shielding students from gunfire during the shooting. To receive a certificate, volunteers have to complete 132 hours of training, as well as the proper psychological and drug tests.
Participation in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program is completely voluntary and school districts can decide whether to opt in.
With the passage of SB 7026, Florida will join several other states, including Texas, Utah and Oklahoma, that have already had similar programs in place for several years.
In Texas, the Guardian Plan was passed in 2014, allowing teachers and faculty to carry weapons on campus as long as their school district has opted into the program and they completed the proper training.
“Because of the danger we felt we needed to protect our students and staff,” said Dr. Glenn Hambrick. Hambrick is the superintendent of the Carthage Independent School District, one of the 172 school districts in Texas that have approved the Guardian Plan.
However, Hambrick did have a warning for Florida legislators.
“Be careful of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said, “You need to realize what a program like this entails.”
He explained that Texas lawmakers spent over a year researching the program before it was enacted.
Many teachers, along with other workers in the public education system around Alachua County, strongly oppose the Guardian Plan component of SB 7026.
Karen McCann, the president of the Alachua County Education Society has been a strong voice in the fight against this bill since the beginning. Last week, she went with seven other teachers from the area to Tallahassee to meet with Senator Keith Perry and lobby against the bill.
“Overwhelmingly, teachers did not go into teaching to be in law enforcement,” McCann said.
According to McCann, a recent survey found that over 90 percent of teachers in the state of Florida were against the idea of carrying weapons in the classroom.
Teachers like Sylvia Haller, a geometry teacher at Buchholz High School, do not want any part in a school that allows teachers to carry concealed weapons.
“I am totally against teachers anywhere being armed in the classroom,” Haller said, “We need to be armed with knowledge and positive re-enforcement, not guns.”
Many people think the best way to stop these shootings from occurring is to ban assault weapons, but that proposal has been voted down multiple times by the Senate.
Other provisions included in SB 7026 to try and curb gun violence include raising the legal age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21, banning the sale of bump stocks, a better means of reporting individuals who may pose a threat to the proper law enforcement, increased physical security for schools and increased funding to mental health services for students and youth.
Alachua County School Board member Eileen Roy thinks the state should provide more funding toward the mental health services area of the bill. She pointed out that the bill’s mental health treatment budget for schools is somewhat lackluster.
“The mental health component they’re proposing is pathetic,” Roy said, “It’s not even a band-aid.”
SB 7026’s mental health service budget is $69, 273, 286, which when split between Florida’s 67 school districts, would leave each district with less than $1 million to distribute amongst its schools.
The bill received it’s second reading in the House today. Florida lawmakers have three more days to get it to the governor.
Lynne Bramlett, an English teacher at Buchholz High School, implores legislators to “think about what is best for students.”