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Commission Investigating Parkland Shooting To Lawmakers: Arm Teachers

Armed guardians train to protect Broward elementary schools over the summer. Soon, lawmakers could vote to allow teachers to act as armed guards, as well.
Emily Michot
Miami Herald
Armed guardians train to protect Broward elementary schools over the summer. Soon, lawmakers could vote to allow teachers to act as armed guards, as well.

The commission that's directing the Florida Legislature's response to the Parkland shooting will recommend that public school teachers be allowed to be armed.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission voted 13-1 on Wednesday evening to suggest that lawmakers expand a state law that now allows some school staff to carry guns but excludes people who are primarily classroom teachers.

The commission's chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, proposed the policy change as part of a draft report due to go to the governor and lawmakers by Jan. 1. The report includes hundreds of pages of evidence uncovered by the commission about what went wrong leading up to and on Feb. 14 and members' suggestions for how to fix or prevent those problems in the future.

Per Gualtieri's plan, teachers would have to volunteer to participate in the so-called "guardian" program, and they would have to undergo extensive training. The proposal the commission agreed on clarifies that teachers would only be authorized to use their guns during active assailant situations.

State Sen. Lauren Book is a Democrat from Broward County and the only lawmaker on the commission. She said the evidence commission members reviewed during the course of their nine-month investigation convinced her that schools need more protection.

"I, along with the rest of the commissioners who watched all of the surveillance videos that we have, cannot unsee the things that we've seen," Book said, "and [I] cannot argue [with the idea] that we need to have more good guys with a gun on school campuses."

Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina died on Feb. 14, said he initially believed teachers should not be armed. He said educators at Stoneman Douglas changed his mind.

"One of the more compelling things to me is that those teachers were defenseless sitting in those classrooms, along with those students, at the wrong end of a semiautomatic rifle," Petty said, referring to people who survived the confessed gunman's attack with an AR-15. "And to not give them the opportunity to protect themselves, I think, is a disservice to the teachers."

The only member who voted against the recommendation was Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting. He said he supports arming administrators but argues teachers should focus on teaching.

He said he would prefer a tactic tried in schools elsewhere: putting smoke cannons in hallways that, when deployed, temporarily blind shooters so they can't see potential victims.

The widow of a security guard who was killed at Stoneman Douglas also spoke against arming teachers.

Debra Hixon told the commission that her late husband Chris was the perfect person to be armed at school. He was a security specialist and a trained military officer with no duties other than protecting students.

She argued that a teacher with a gun could make a mistake — and that risk wasn't worth it.

"Classroom teachers cannot and should not be distracted with the responsibility of being armed inside a classroom, even if they think they want to," Hixon said. "The probability of something going wrong clearly outweighs that one time that there may be a shooter in the classroom."

The commission, which typically meets at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, convened on Wednesday at an arena in Tallahassee instead. It will hold a second day of meetings on Thursday.

State lawmakers are in the capital for their first week of committee meetings ahead of the 2019 session, which starts in March.

During this year's session, three weeks after the shooting, the Legislature passed a law requiring a police officer or armed guard on every public school campus.

Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties all fulfilled this requirement by using only trained law enforcement officers, in some cases by partnering with local police agencies to fill holes. The Broward district is using a mix of cops and armed guards whose only job is security.

No district locally, as of yet, has decided to arm teachers or staff members who have other jobs in schools.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit .

Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.