BY ANA CEBALLOS
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed legislation that expands the controversial school “guardian” program to allow armed classroom teachers.
DeSantis’ office announced the signing shortly after 6 p.m. without ceremony or comments about the bill, which was widely backed by House and Senate Republicans and heavily opposed by gun-control activists, Democrats and some students who survived the mass shooting last year at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The governor signed the bill (SB 7030) hours after it was sent to his desk.
Earlier in the week, DeSantis praised the Legislature for implementing “dozens of school safety recommendations” made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, noting the recommendations included expansion of the guardian program. The Legislature formed the commission last year to investigate the February 2018 shooting and recommend ways to make schools safer.
Other changes included in the wide-ranging bill will put $75 million into school mental-health services, strengthen reporting requirements for potentially threatening incidents that happen on school premises, improve information-sharing between school districts on students with behavioral issues and continue investment in a tool that assists with school emergencies.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, issued a statement Wednesday night thanking DeSantis for signing the bill.
“By implementing the recommendations of the commission, this legislation continues efforts to proactively enhance coordination between education, law enforcement, and community mental health resources to ensure at-risk students receive the help they need before a tragedy occurs,” Galvano said in the statement.
“The bill also sets forth a plan to help school districts implement the security and school hardening provisions of the legislation we passed last year in an expedited manner to help prevent those who would seek to harm our children from gaining access to our schools.”
Lawmakers praised most parts of the bill but were sharply divided on the expansion of the guardian program to allow districts to have armed teachers.
When the guardian program was created last year, it was geared toward school staff members whose main duties were outside the classroom. The only classroom teachers who could volunteer to participate in the program had to double in other positions, such as serving as coaches, administrators or cafeteria employees.
Some won’t participate
The program is voluntary for school districts and employees. Currently, 30 of Florida’s 67 school districts have decided to allow trained and armed school staff members.
Under the bill signed Wednesday, classroom teachers can volunteer to participate if their districts allow it. The teachers will get one-time $500 stipends.
“Currently, no districts have indicated to us that they are allowing classroom teachers to participate,” said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Education.
Meanwhile, another major education bill from the legislative session that ended Saturday is pending before DeSantis. That bill (SB 7070) includes creating a new school-vouchers program.
DeSantis is scheduled to make appearances Thursday at schools in Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and Miami Gardens, though his office did not say whether he would use the events to sign the voucher-related bill.