Days after Florida’s governor signed a bill making more teachers eligible to carry guns in the classroom, educators across the state are blasting the measure, branding it “one of the worst ideas.”
Nine teachers from across the Sunshine State gave their take to the Tampa Bay Times on Florida’s expanded “guardian” program, which takes effect Oct. 1 after being signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The new bill requires teachers in school districts that opt in to the program to undergo training, psychiatric evaluation and drug screening if they want to pack heat. Previously, only teachers who also have another role at the school, such as a coach or administrator, would be allowed to carry a weapon.
“That’s not why we got into the classroom and it’s another frustrating thing that we’re being asked to do,” James Washington, a teacher at Gulf High School in Pasco County, told the newspaper. “I know it’s voluntary right now, but at some point, students are going to start losing trust and not going to know which teachers are carrying and which aren’t.”
Washington said all teachers would eventually be assumed by students to be carrying a gun.
“That bond that we’re going to be able to create fluidly is now going to be interrupted,” Washington said.
Dana Cottrell, a teacher at F.W. Springstead in Hernando County, said “not one teacher” she’s spoken to supports the expanded program.
“We’re in this because we love kids and we love to teach,” Cottrell said. “If we wanted to be law enforcement, we would’ve gone into that field.”
Cottrell, a Democrat now running for office in the state’s 11th Congressional District, said other suggestions offered by teachers to improve safety have gone unheeded.
“Now you’re telling us to go shoot the kids,” Cottrell told the newspaper.
Florida’s “guardian” program was enacted after a former student stormed into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland and killed 17 people in February 2018. Nikolas Cruz, 20, has pleaded not guilty in the massacre, but his attorneys have indicated he would plead guilty for a life sentence. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are seeking the death penalty.
A total of 28 of the state’s 67 school districts have implemented the guardian program in some capacity, the Tampa Bay Times reports, citing Florida Department of Education figures. But of the $67 million earmarked for districts to incorporate the program, just $9 million had been spent as of the start of this school year.
Several school districts, including those in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Broward counties, have rejected the program, while officials in Baker County have said they support arming teachers, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
“Personally, I’m very thankful,” teacher Steve Stokes told the newspaper of the possibility of being armed while teaching at J.R. Arnold High School in Panama City Beach. “It just makes sense for teachers like myself who are credentialed.”
Stokes, a veteran who served 22 years in the military, acknowledged that the prospect of having a gun in a classroom isn’t for everyone and recalled a fire drill at the school shortly after the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
“At that time, we had to take our students to the back of the school,” Stokes said. “Some girls were in tears. I wished I had some way to protect them. We need more people on campus. One armed officer — it’s not enough to protect 1,000 kids.”
Another teacher told the newspaper flatly that he’s worried about what might come next after DeSantis’ move on Wednesday to enact recommendations by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, including more armed educators.
“There’s just so many roles that teachers already play,” Tim Harris of George Steinbrenner High School in Hillsborough County said. “To pile on another role is not very realistic for anyone who has actually taught in a public school … It makes me really nervous, I don’t think it’s what’s best for students.”
With Post wires
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