The Osceola County School Board voted unanimously not to arm teachers in traditional public schools Tuesday night.
Charter schools, however, will be left to make their own decisions.
The decision followed a Tuesday morning workshop meeting devoted to the topic along with more than an hour of discussion at a school board meeting later that day.
Florida law mandates districts have armed law enforcement officers or security guards at every school in Florida. The semi-funded state mandate resulted from a sweeping piece of legislation crafted last year in response to a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law this month expanding what’s known as the school guardian program that lets school districts, not sheriff’s offices, decide If they want to arm teachers and staff.
If districts opt-in, volunteer teachers and staff would have to complete required training through local law enforcement agencies. The measure could save districts thousands of dollars, but the program has been highly controversial from the start.
A stream of concerned parents, teachers and students spoke out against the proposal at a Monday afternoon school board meeting.
“The possibility of an active shooter is not justification for the presence of firearms on campus,” said Lee Right, a St. Cloud resident and Osceola County teacher.
Students urged board members to focus on strengthening mental health resources instead and provide equal protection to charter schools.
“There is too much room for error,” said one Osceola County student named Jenny (students are not required to state last names at public board meetings.) “An armed teacher doesn’t make anyone feel safer – it makes them scared.”
Even representation from a federal lawmaker spoke out in opposition.
“Let’s do this the right way,” said Vivian Rodriguez, outreach director for U.S. Congressman Darren Soto’s office. “Give them highly trained resource officers to protect them, and keep teachers focused on teaching our kids.”
Action needed to take place quickly on the item one way or another so that a plan can be in place when the new school year begins, said Board Member Ricky Booth after public comment closed.
He emphasized that not only is barring employees from carrying weapons a violation of current school board policy, a lengthy public hearing process would have to take place to change it.
“It can’t change in one meeting overnight,” said Board Chair Clarence Thacker.
But members agreed with residents that arming educators shouldn’t happen in Osceola County.
“The board agrees with the wisdom of folks who came here to speak tonight,” said School Board Member Kelvin Soto. “Why would we adopt a bad idea? So, we’re not.”
The board ultimately approved the following:
- Not to arm teachers or staff through the guardian program.
- To allow charter school boards to make their own decisions about arming teachers while encouraging them to continuing using school resource officers (SROs).
- Authorize the district superintendent to move forward with finalizing SRO funding for the 2019-20 year.