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Friday, May 20, 2022

Alachua County Public Schools opt to not arm school employees

<p>A girl stares out the window of an Alachua County school bus on West University Avenue.</p>

A girl stares out the window of an Alachua County school bus on West University Avenue.

The Alachua County School Board unanimously voted to opt out of the Florida program to arm volunteer school employees, including some teachers, Tuesday night.

After Gov. Rick Scott met with Parkland shooting survivors March 9, he signed SB 7026, a $400 million bill known as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.”

The bill aims to keep guns out of the hands of anyone under 21 years old or who has a mentally disability.

It also establishes the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” which would allow school employees to opt into being a “school guardian,” or someone who can carry a gun on campus to use in the event of a shooting. The program is named after the Stoneman Douglas football coach who died shielding students from bullets during the Valentine’s Day shooting.

The program will only be available in school districts where the school board members and the sheriff’s office approve it. In Alachua, the county school board members agreed teachers should focus on teaching. Members also expressed concerns over the amount of training school employees would undergo, said ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson.

As of now, only law enforcement officers are permitted to be armed on Alachua school campuses, she said.

“All the vote does is maintain the current policy we have in place,” Johnson said.

Every Alachua County school is assigned a campus police officer, although some schools near each other shared an officer, Johnson said. The Gainesville Police Department will now assign an officer to patrol each school campus full time, she said.

School administrators received active shooter response training last summer, and ACPS maintains strong, constant communication with law enforcement, Johnson said.

“We have a lot of safeguards in place, and we’re looking at additional things to add,” Johnson said. “The board just felt that arming teachers is not the way to go.”

Scott also approved prohibiting the sale of bump stocks, which are devices that make a semi automatic weapon fire like an automatic weapon, and establishing an Office of Safe Schools in the Department of Education. The law allocates $99 million for improving school safety, including $1.1 million for Alachua County, according to Alligator archives.

Chris Bell, a UF political science, history and Spanish senior, said the school board made the right decision. Bell, the founder of student group Gators Against Gun Violence, said the guardian program is a ridiculous idea.

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“I don’t think the solution to guns is more guns, especially in a school,” the 22-year-old said. “It is not within a teacher’s job description to fend off shooters and threats.”

Although Bell agrees with increased funding for security methods and mental health programs, he said the law sidesteps around the root of the issue: guns.

“I think all of these are Band-Aid solutions to a really larger problem,” he said.

Contact Amanda Rosa at arosa@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AmandaNicRosa.

A girl stares out the window of an Alachua County school bus on West University Avenue.

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