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Tampa Bay School Boards Oppose Arming School Staff

Copy of the letter sent to Florida lawmakers from Hillsborough County Public Schools, opposing the program to arm school personnel.
Hillsborough County Public Schools
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Many school boards across Tampa Bay are voicing their opposition to a bill in the Florida legislature that would arm school personnel.

The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program allows school districts to choose if they want non-instructional school staff, such as principals and librarians, to be trained to carry firearms in school. This is an amendment to the original bill, which included teachers as well.

The amended program is named after a coach who was killed while using his body to shield students in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland last month.

The bill has been a hotly debated topic during the legislative session, narrowly passing the Senate on Sunday by a 20-18 vote. The House passed the bill, 67-50, after hours of debate Wednesday.

Many educators around Florida have opposed the idea, and now, school boards are taking a stand.

The Hillsborough County School Board unanimously approved a motion to direct the superintendent to send a letter to the Governor and the legislative leadership.

"They asked for the letter to express (the Board) adamantly opposes arming teachers and other school staff with weapons," said spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

Polk County Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd issued a video on her district's Facebook page taking a similar stance.

"I will not support or recommend any measure that seeks to arm our teachers or staff," said Byrd.

"A majority of the Pasco County School Board and Superintendent Kurt Browning have said publicly that they do not support arming school employees," said spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. "There hasn’t been an official vote, but at this time, there are no plans to put guns in classrooms, unless they are under the control and possession of a trained and certified law enforcement officer employed by a sheriff or local police department."

Dr. Michael A. Grego, superintendent of Pinellas County Public Schools, said the district is satisfied with the amendment that takes teachers out of the equation.

"Pinellas County Schools is pleased the state legislature voted to exclude educators who exclusively teach in classrooms from being armed. Our teachers need to remain focused on the education of their students," said Dr. Grego. "The school district will work with law enforcement agencies to determine if some form of a school guardian program is appropriate for Pinellas."

He added that he'd prefer that the only armed officials on campus are trained school resource officers.

The bill allots $400 million to mental health and school safety measures. In addition to the school marshal program, it raises the age to purchase guns in Florida from 18 to 21, bans the sale and possession of bump stocks, and expands the three-day waiting period for buying a gun to include rifles and shotguns.

Now that Florida legislators have passed the bill, it moves to Governor Rick Scott. He has indicated in the past that he is not in favor of arming teachers, but lawmakers hope the changes will satisfy him.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Hafsa Quraishi is a WUSF Public Media digital news intern for fall 2017.