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Florida Senate bill waters down arming teachers

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Students storm Gov. Rick Scott’s office after a rally at the Capitol on Feb. 21, 2018. Gov. Scott wasn’t there. He was in South Florida attending the funeral of Marjory Stoneman Douglas athletic director Chris Hixon, who was one of the 17 victims of the mass shooting last week. (Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Most classroom teachers would be unable to carry firearms under the bill being considered by the Florida Senate in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

But there would still be guns in schools.

With Republican Gov. Rick Scott against arming teachers and the legislative black caucus having united against the idea, the Florida Senate amended its bill Monday to exclude classroom teachers from participating.

The amendment narrowly tailored who qualifies as a classroom teacher to just those defined in state law as “staff members assigned the professional activity of instructing students in courses in classroom situations, including basic instruction, exceptional student education, career education, and adult education.”

Librarians, media specialists, advisers and other school personnel would still be able to carry firearms. Additionally, classroom teachers who don’t teach exclusively — such as teachers who also coach sports — would be allowed to carry. Current service members, current or former law enforcement and teachers in a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program would also be allowed to carry.

“Do not make the mistake of believing that this amendment pulls out guns with teachers,” said state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami. “It does not change the fatal flaw of this bill.”

The amendment sponsor, state Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah, was one of just two Republicans who has sided with Democrats in trying to get an assault weapon ban and some other gun control measures put into the bill. The other is state Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami.

“Would I like to see it go further? Of course I would like to see it go further, but this is part of the political environment that we live in,” Garcia said. “I’m doing my part to try to make this better.”

The program would remain optional, with both county sheriffs and school district superintendents having to approve and school staff having the option of participating.

The Senate version of the bill also renames the program to arm teachers, previously known as the Florida Sheriff’s Marshal Program, to the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.

Feis was an assistant football coach at Stoneman Douglas who died during the shooting, reportedly while shielding students from gunfire. The sponsor of the renaming amendment, state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he had spoken with Feis’ widow before offering it.

“There were so many heroes that day. He was not the only one,” Galvano said. “But he stood out in his actions and what he did.”

Of the $400 million in funding, $67 million goes toward the guardian program. Almost $100 million goes to school security upgrades such as reinforced doors and bulletproof glass, with a similar amount going to mental health programs and a similar amount going to school safety, including the potential hire of more police in schools.

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