Arming Teachers: Duval County Residents Share Concerns About Florida Guardian Program

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is pushing for Duval County Public Schools to adopt the program which would allow for the arming of teachers.
Published: March 8, 2024

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Parents and community members voiced concerns this week about arming Duval County Public Schools teachers as part of Florida’s Guardian Program.

The Guardian Program, established following the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, allows Class D and G licensed security guards and volunteer school employees to carry guns in Florida public schools. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri spoke at a Feb. 20 workshop about why he believes the district should adopt the program, WOKV reports.

“You gotta have armed people on the campus. And, you have to view this through the lens of not what you want, not what you like, but what you can live with? So my view of it changed,” he said. “And, that could be anyone from a maintenance person, plan operator, a teacher to a coach to a principal to somebody else.”

Gualtieri said the training would be extensive and require more skill sets than a trained law enforcement officer.

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“They’re going about their daily tasks and responsibilities, they’re carrying a gun, but it’s concealed, nobody knows they have it,” he said. “They carry it in a retention holster so that it is safe.”

State funds are granted to participating Sheriff’s offices to cover the screening and training costs for each school district or charter school guardian, according to the Florida Department of Education’s (FDE) website. Forty-nine counties are currently participating in the Guardian Program.

Duval County Parents, Community Group Oppose Arming Teachers

During a March 5 school board meeting, several people shared their apprehensions about the program.

“Arming teachers and school staff is an asinine idea, asking teachers to turn into sharpshooters in a high-stress situation is insane. And the reality is they are more likely to shoot an innocent bystander,” said parent Katie Hathway. “I appreciate our board’s commitment to school safety, however, that should not include arming teachers. Teachers need to be armed with books resources, better pay, not guns.”

“It’s unfair to our teachers,” said another person. “They are already saturated with enough responsibilities without adding burden and liability of potential lethal force to their duties.”

Members of Public School Defenders, a community group, also attended the meeting and released a statement with its stance.

“Public School Defenders strongly opposes the proposition of arming teachers and staff, as there is no evidence supporting arming educators contributes to a safer school environment,” the statement reads in part. “Instead, there are far too many reported cases of accidental discharges, misfires, and intentional misuse of firearms within districts putting more guns into schools.”

The existing school board policy prevents the arming of teachers or any other employee except for law enforcement and school safety assistants.

DCPS Struggles with Officer Retainment, Underreported Crimes

As required by the FDE, DCPS currently has at least one armed person at each school. They include school resources officers, trained security guards, or staff hired and trained specifically to carry a gun. However, the district has had difficulty retaining school police officers in recent years.

More than half of the officers hired in 2021 resigned that same year. At one point, the district had 22 officer vacancies — five in secondary schools and 17 in primary schools. Part of the issue was the vast majority of applicants weren’t qualified for the job. Of its 93 officer applicants received that year, only 13 were hired. Officer pay was also low with a starting salary of less than $40,000.

The district has also been accused several times of underreporting crimes. School Police Chief Michael Edwards resigned in 2021 after a 2020 grand jury preliminary report scorched the district for “outright fraud” in reporting crime statistics and gang activity. The administration allegedly told Edwards not to report petty acts of misconduct or misdemeanors to law enforcement. Out of Florida’s 67 counties and 74 school districts, DCPS was the only district called out directly in the report.

In 2022, the FDE sent a letter to Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene alleging school officials continued to violate state law by downplaying criminal incidents. The letter stemmed from a grand jury report that found DCPS staff failed to report over 2,000 crimes to the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) Database. The report determined school personnel would talk to or call law enforcement regarding incidents but didn’t report the crimes to the database.

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