Florida passes bill expanding school guardian program to train and arm school staff

Updated: May. 1, 2019 at 4:28 PM EDT
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SARASOTA (WWSB) - Republican lawmakers on Wednesday gave final passage to a wide-ranging school safety bill that would undo a post-Parkland school shooting compromise reached last year that kept guns away from classroom teachers.

Despite backlash from Democrats, the Florida House passed legislation that includes the expansion of the controversial school “guardian” program and a number of other recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

The compromise Republican leaders reached in wake of the Parkland shooting that left 17 people dead last Valentine's Day excluded classroom teachers from a voluntary program that trains and arms school staff to protect students in case of active shooter situations.

In an impassioned debate, Democrats including State Rep. Susan Valdes of Tampa argued the expansion of the guardian program without more guardrails could result in a loss of life and endanger students across the state.

"You can arm folks that are not in the classroom that would like to volunteer and go through the training, maybe ex-military. But, arming teachers with a gun is not the tool that they need to educate our children," said Valdes.

But Republicans including State Rep. Spencer Roach of North Fort Myers say the program gives school districts more flexibility to participate in a voluntary program in order to give schools a tool to protect students in case of school shootings.

"This legislation gives us the option. It is consistent with the recommendations in the report and this will provide more, not less, protection to our children in the state of Florida," said Roach.

Governor Ron DeSantis now has the power to approve the bill. Signing the measure into law would not only grow the number of armed school staff across the state, but it would also improve data collection on incidents that occur on school premises that could pose a threat to students, expand mental-health services at schools and enhance information-sharing between schools about new students with behavioral issues.

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