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Several local school districts plan to 'opt out' of bill allowing teachers to carry guns

Posted at 4:28 PM, Mar 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-08 19:40:00-05

A plan to arm teachers may never be exercised in South Florida schools, even if the current bill becomes law. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act gives school districts the option to opt out of the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.

The program would allow certain school personnel who are not teachers become qualified and trained to carry guns on campus. 

"I think most of my schools in my area in South Florida will not have any type of 'guardianship program,' the sheriffs will not have any kind of 'guardianship program' but at least we've given them the option," said Representative Rick Roth. 

Palm Beach County School Police Chief Lawrence Leon has been adamant about keeping schools as gun free zones. 

"To have an armed teacher on campus, you're bringing another weapon onto campus," said the chief. 

The Martin County Sheriff has increased deputy presence at middle and high schools. The St. Lucie County School District says it does not advocate arming teachers. In a statement, the district said:

"St. Lucie Public Schools remains ever vigilant in its efforts to work collaboratively with its local law enforcement partners to provide safe and caring campuses for students and staff.  The Florida Legislature has taken positive steps to help deter violence through enhanced funding measures and firearm restrictions; however, SLPS does not advocate arming teachers."

St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara has re-organized units and added school resource deputies at every public elementary school.

"Usually it comes down to money, it's as simple as that," said the sheriff in a media briefing on Tuesday. 

The bill includes more dollars for districts to hire more school resource officers. Roth believes the bill is a good start to get students and schools protection they need now. 

"I voted yes on the bill yesterday because I felt it was important to make a step forward now," said Roth.

Okeechobee County Schools Superintendent Ken Kenworthy said the district has not made a decision yet on whether it would opt in or out of the guardian program. In an email, Superintendent Kenworthy said, "The district has not taken an official position yet as to teachers carrying firearms.  We have several meetings planned in the next two weeks regarding school safety and security of which this subject will be discussed. We have conducted safety walks of every campus with law enforcement.  All schools have practiced lockdown drills. Methods of communications and security cameras have been examined and thoroughly tested.  Our threat assessment procedures are on ongoing which consists of a collaborative team of law enforcement, mental health counselors and school personnel.  All previous threats have been followed-up on to ensure ongoing support."

Governor Scott has 15 days to sign the bill.