Classroom teachers can have guns. Painful debate marks final passage by Florida House.

Principal promises guardian will deal with any attack

Bill Jones, principal of Manatee School for the Arts, says any armed intruder will be taken down immediately by armed school guardian.

Bill Jones, principal of Manatee School for the Arts, says any armed intruder will be taken down immediately by armed school guardian.

After about seven hours of angry, sometimes deeply painful debate about race and gun violence that spanned two days, the Florida House passed a bill that would allow classroom teachers to be armed in an expansion of the program it created last year after the Parkland shooting.

The debate at times reached a heightened pitch that had Democrats shouting or tearing up as black members delved into details about their personal experiences with racism and their deep-seated fears about minority children being targeted by teachers who have guns.

The bill is now on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. For teachers and other staff to be armed, school districts must opt-in to the so-called “Guardian program,” which allows teachers and other staff to volunteer to carry a gun on campus after undergoing screening and training by a local sheriff’s office.

Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from West Park who is widely known as a polite speaker and someone who has friends on both sides of the aisle, yelled into his microphone Tuesday after a Republican said that one of Jones’ amendments was implying that teachers are racist. Jones, who is black, had proposed that implicit bias training be mandated as part of the classes teachers and staff must undergo if they are to be armed in school.

That amendment failed, even though some Republicans were convinced to vote for it.

“There’s a reality that some of us have, that some of you in the front row couldn’t care less about,” Jones said, referring to House Republican leadership before he began to shout into his microphone. “I asked for implicit bias training because we’re talking about black boys and girls that are getting murdered by police officers! … There are bad police officers and there are bad teachers.”

The debate was shaped by breaking news Tuesday that a law enforcement officer’s gun went off in his holster in Weightman Middle School’s cafeteria in Pasco County. Later in the day, two students were killed and four more people were injured during a shooting at the University of North Carolina’s Charlotte campus.

But Republicans pointed to the fact that the commission created to investigate the failings of the Parkland shooting issued a report that recommended the Legislature allow classroom teachers to be armed. Last year after Parkland, lawmakers created the “Guardian” program that allows staff to carry guns, but excluded teachers who “exclusively perform classroom duties” as a compromise. This bill would undo that exception.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, pointed out the fact that the law enforcement officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland did not engage the shooter.

“The hard truth is we never know how anybody is going to respond … what we do know is [Parkland] Coach Aaron Feis responded the only way he could and he put his body in the way of students,” he said. “The real first responders are the school staff that love our children. They are the real first responders because they are there at the time the tragedy happens.”

During the debate, Democrats accused the Republican majority of blatant partisanship, as they voted down all of the Democrats’ more than 20 amendments, some of which proposed to increase training requirements or set parameters for how the guns should be stored.

Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, whose district includes Parkland, said this year feels different than last year’s bipartisan effort to respond to the tragedy.

“A year ago as we were fresh in the horror of what had happened in Parkland … there was compromise and there was goodness in that bill,” she said. “I don’t feel that way about this bill. I don’t feel the ‘we’ in this bill. … we knew the outcome on my side the minute it came up because we’re not really at the table.”

The bill passed 65-47, with five Republicans crossing their party line to vote against it.

This is a breaking story that will be updated.