TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In search of a solution that will prevent another school massacre, a sharply divided Florida Senate on Tuesday passed a wide-ranging school safety bill that includes a controversial provision aimed at adding armed teachers to the line of defense.
The Senate passed the bill on a 22 to 17 vote, expanding the school “guardian” program to allow armed classroom teachers.
The program was created last year and has allowed other staff members to be armed if school districts approve.
Senate bill sponsor Manny Diaz argues the guardian program is voluntary for local school districts, and that if they do opt in, teachers would go through psychological evaluations, background screenings and training on how to handle active shooter situations.
“This bill does not arm one single, solitary teacher. What this bill does is provide the 67 school districts, the 67 different communities in this state with the ability to do what they need to do to protect our kids," said Diaz.
Throughout the legislative process, Democrats have tried in vain to amend the bill to keep classroom teachers from participating in the guardian program and to give parents the option to pull their children from classes taught by armed teachers. Audrey Gibson is the Senate Minority Leader.
“We don’t need to bring guns into the classrooms, with the precious children that are sent to school every single day," said Gibson.
The measure also includes other recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was formed by the Legislature last year after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty members at the Parkland school.
Some of those include strengthening mental-health services at schools across the state and improving communication between schools and law enforcement.
While the Senate universally agreed those provisions of the bill were important, most of the debate Tuesday focused on the expansion of the guardian program.
A similar House bill has moved through committees but has not yet come up on the House floor for a vote.