Manatee School Board takes a stance on the arming of 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.

Shortly after the Florida Senate passed a bill that would allow for the voluntary arming of trained teachers, the School Board of Manatee County voted 3-2 to oppose the legislation.

Senate Bill 7030 nearly passed along party lines Tuesday morning, but Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, shared in the Democrats’ opposition. It ultimately passed with a 22-17 vote, and SB 7030 is likely to pass the House and the final review by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The school board then voted 3-2 to oppose SB 7030 and House Bill 7093, sister bills that would both expand the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program. Most teachers are currently barred from joining the program and carrying a firearm, but pending legislation would allow all instructors to participate — with school board approval — if they pass the required 144 hours of training, along with other conditions.

Board member Scott Hopes and Vice-Chair Gina Messenger voted against the legislation. While both said they are opposed to the arming of local teachers, they also feared more restrictive legislation if school districts continued to oppose the current bills.

Hopes also stressed the need for such a law in rural counties, and he previously highlighted the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which recommended the voluntary arming of teachers. The committee was formed after the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, where a gunman killed 17 people.

“My vote against this resolution is not a vote to arm teachers,” Hopes said.

“I’m smart enough to know that I’m not about to support arming a teacher when I’ve got three teachers who don’t want that teacher armed,” he continued. “They’ll leave the county. I get that.”

A woman spoke out as Hopes promised to vote against the resolution, and she soon became the second person to receive a police escort out of Tuesday’s meeting. The first was Greg Klein, a media arts teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School, because he exceeded the time allowed for public comment.

Klein held up a picture of him standing next to a chain-link fence at his school, calling it an easy obstacle for potential shooters. He said the district should focus more on the physical security of its campuses, known as school hardening, rather than the arming of teachers.

“Arming teachers, in my view, is an admission that we have already failed,” he said.

Christine Tuchman, a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, would likely agree. She was among eight people to speak on the topic during public comment — all of them against the arming of teachers.

“Teachers wear many hats,” she said, reading from a prepared statement. “Each year, more and more responsibilities are being placed on them. Being an armed guard should not be one of them.”

Board member James Golden asked the board to make its opinion clear in early March, pointing to Hillsborough and Sarasota counties, which both passed resolutions against the arming of teachers. The board made its stance clear on April 9, but it postponed the vote after a long day of meetings.

Sophie Bell, 13, is a seventh-grader at R. Dan Nolan Middle School and one of the public speakers at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“I don’t want to go to school every day knowing that my teacher has a gun on them,” she said. “Teachers were trained to teach, not to use a gun. Please let my teachers teach, and let me be a fun, crazy, silly, stupid kid who can have fun at school, not be worried about guns.”

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