TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As we approach six years since the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, there's a greater push to make sure teachers know how to handle mass casualty incidents.
A proposed bill in Florida would require teachers to have training before they even step into the classroom.
The sponsor of this bill said the goal is not to turn teachers into first responders, but to take a closer look at school safety practices earlier on. And, in fact, there's one local college already doing it.
State Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs hopes the FERTES (Future Educators Response to Emergency Situations) program at Indian River State College will become a model for the state.
"Think of it as if you are pursuing your educational degree. Under the classroom management portion, they'll teach you how to arrange your classroom, how to take into account hard corners, what to look for, what to listen for," Daley said. "Teachers are some of our best eyes and ears when it comes to being in the classroom."
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Daley, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, sponsored HB 903, formally titled "Educator Certifications and Training," which would require educators to be trained on "identifying, preventing, preparing, addressing, and responding to mass casualty incidents" as part of their certification process.
"I've known one of the victims, Aaron Feis, since I was 15 years old. So it is deeply personal for me," Daley said.
School safety leaders in Martin County like the idea of teachers getting this training on the front end to supplement what they do during the school year.
"We do in-house, in-service training when they come in. They have to do active response training. We have to do that yearly. We do our drills. So they are getting in-service training," said Frank Frangella, the chief of safety and security for the Martin County School District.
Frangella said he's had good experience working with the Indian River State College FERTES program.
"I think it's a really good idea. Because what happens is, even while they are in school, they get this taste of what they're going to be doing as far as safety," Frangella said.
If the bill passes, the training would be required starting in the 2025/26 school year. The bill is still moving through committees and there is also a companion version in the Florida Senate.
Matt Theobald, the president of the Martin County Education Association, said safety is always on teachers' minds.
"Teachers care about their kids, and we do this job because we care. So that thought is always on the forefront of our minds in the classroom," Theobald said. "Our priority, first and foremost in the classroom, is to make sure our students have a safe learning environment that's conducive to them obtaining the highest quality education possible."
During House committee hearings in Tallahassee, Nancy Lawther, representing the Florida PTA, made a strong statement in her support for the bill.
"We rise as Florida PTA in support of this HB 903. But it breaks my heart to do so," Lawther said. "This is training that should not be necessary. But unfortunately, at this juncture, it is. And so we support the supplementary training. We wish that teachers in preparation and those engaged in professional development and professional learning did not have to add this to the many other responsibilities they have, from mastering content to classroom management and for keeping abreast of their fields. We are clearly in support. It is with a heavy heart that we do."