It has been nearly three months since Florida schools implemented a controversial school guardian program which allows trained teachers and school personnel to act as armed guards. The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program was put into place in response to the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
It was created by Senate Bill 7030, which was introduced early last year into the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May 2019. Under the program, willing school personnel can volunteer to take a minimum of 144 hours of active shooter training in order to qualify to serve as an armed guard.
The program has been controversial since its conception and has raised concerns about putting more guns in school.
Proponents claim the program is a cheap way to prevent mass shootings, but critics point to potential unintended consequences. An inattentive guardian could have their gun stolen by a student, or a guardian could mistakenly shoot an unarmed student. As a result, many school districts have opted out. Only 41 out of Florida’s 67 counties are participating in the program.
The Legislature allocated $67 million for the program, yet schools who have opted out are not able to allocate that money to use it for other safety measures. Despite the fact that they do not have access to those state dollars, they are still mandated by the state to have armed security.
Counties that opted out could make good use of those state dollars by hiring police deputies or hardening schools with visible security measures, like gates and metal detectors. However, at the moment they cannot use those funds to enact these alternative safety measures.
Why has the Legislature not allowed counties that have opted out to use that large sum of money to keep Florida children safe in other ways? Why are they so determined to spend this money on additional weapons in schools?
In response to these issues, State Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) filed SB 304, which would allow counties that opted out to use these funds. However, the legislation isn’t likely to become law in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
There are many concerns that school districts could have with this program. The Legislature should not punish counties that choose not to implement it.
Jared Sellick is a senior studying political science.