Education

Without taking official action, Manatee School Board takes a stance on arming teachers

Manatee School Board members discuss their opinion on armed teachers

According to Tuesday night's discussion, the entire School Board of Manatee County is against the arming of local teachers, an aspect of pending legislation in Tallahassee.
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According to Tuesday night's discussion, the entire School Board of Manatee County is against the arming of local teachers, an aspect of pending legislation in Tallahassee.

The entire Manatee County School Board is opposed to arming local teachers, but it stopped short of passing a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting.

Board members James Golden and Charlie Kennedy maintained their past opposition to pending legislation, which would allow teachers to voluntarily wield a firearm after passing 144 hours of training. Golden said he joined a protest in Tallahassee last week.

“I stood there on the steps of that old Capitol with those 150 kids from around the state and the very legislators who are going to vote on this,” Golden recounted. “I said then and I’ll say it now, this is wrong.”

Gina Messenger, the board’s vice chair, said she was torn between the gun-friendly household that raised her, and her experience as a former classroom teacher. While she felt comfortable with responsible gun ownership, the idea of armed teachers made her anxious.

Dave Miner, the board’s chairman and a military veteran, echoed her sentiments.

“I oppose our allowing of non-law enforcement personnel to have firearms on our campuses,” Miner said. “This is a guy who learned to shoot from the NRA — the old NRA that wasn’t dominated by firearms manufacturers.”

Still, if the legislation were to pass as it currently stands, local school districts would decide whether teachers should be armed. Messenger said she wouldn’t oppose the legislation, fearing it could lead to more restrictive laws in the future.

Her fear, according to board member Scott Hopes, is valid. After his recent visit to Tallahassee, he now believes the majority of legislators will mandate a similar program if the current bills fail.

Hopes also clarified his stance on the topic of arming teachers. Much like the vice chair, he is against the arming of teachers, but not the legislation and the freedom of choice.

“I don’t want our teachers in the classroom to be armed, but I don’t want to affect some of the rural counties,” he said.

Hopes made a motion to table the board’s discussion until its next meeting on April 23, a suggestion that was unanimously approved.

“We may not have a resolution, but at least the community can go forward and they know where everybody is,” Kennedy said.

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