The Phoenix Flyer

Statewide grand jury interim report: Are schools noncompliant – or reluctant to arm classroom teachers?

By: - July 23, 2019 1:45 pm
gun training class

A training class on carrying concealed weapons. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

A statewide grand jury on school safety produced its first interim report last week, blaming numerous Florida school districts for not complying with safety measures, such as allowing classroom teachers to be armed in public schools.

But the three-page report also suggests that districts may be reluctant to comply with the laws on arming teachers – one of the most divisive and controversial measures approved during last spring’s legislative session.

The statewide grand jury on school safety launched in February, after Gov. Ron DeSantis petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury. The petition, filed at the Supreme Court, states that there’s “a need to examine the crimes and wrongs that precipitated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting and that even now result in unsafe schools across the state.”

Students, advocacy groups, educators, moms, teacher unions and largely Democrats in the Legislature fought against arming teachers, but lost the battle. DeSantis approved the measure by signing SB 7030 in May. The statewide grand jury also references SB 7026 in the interim report –the 2018 bill that included gun restrictions and an increasing law enforcement presence at schools following the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“We have heard days of testimony from Department of Education, school district and law enforcement officials regarding administrative hurdles, increased costs to their districts, and shortages of the qualified employees necessary to bring these districts into compliance with these important safety measures. Without discussing the specifics of their explanations, suffice it to say we find this testimony wholly unpersuasive,” the report states.

It continues: “We have seen and heard troubling evidence of conflicts between school district officials and law enforcement agencies regarding who is ultimately responsible for executing and enforcing SB 7026 and SB 7030. It appears that at least some of these officials have failed-or refused-to accept their responsibility for school safety.”

With the new school year looming – most districts start school on Aug. 12 — the report says, “We find that law enforcement and school district officials have had sufficient time to bring their districts into compliance with these laws, and we fully expect that these officials will use the remaining days before the first day of the 2019-20 school year to do whatever it takes to bring these districts into full compliance.”

The statewide grand jury is continuing in Broward County and will “continue to investigate, monitor and exercise our authority to ensure full compliance with SB 7026 and SB 7030, as requested by the Governor and ordered by the Florida Supreme Court,” the report says.

“As Attorney General of the State of Florida and as a mother, protecting our children is of the utmost importance to me personally and professionally. I am astounded to learn that numerous school districts in Florida are not following the laws passed to protect our children,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody, who released the interim report on Friday.

“Unfortunately, the interim report does not name the school districts that are out of compliance with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act, but the districts are certainly aware,” Moody said.

“So, let me be very clear, elected officials in school districts blatantly and irresponsibly shirking these extremely important public safety measures need to take steps immediately to comply with the law before the school year begins and we put our children in your trust and care.”

 

 

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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