Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Schools – Teachers With Guns – Not Now

Photo: MGN

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – As parents prepare for the new school year, school supplies, after school activities, and school safety are on the table in Florida schools and homes. Why school safety? After the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School massacre, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7030 amending school safety statutes, which among other things, allows the arming of school teachers.

The legislation also requires school districts to create a database for tracking students with mental health issues and monitoring social media posts.

I have spoken with students across the county. The younger students echoed the concerns of my brother, Michael Dewayne a six year old first grader, who did not want his teacher to have a gun. He was afraid that either the teacher or another student might accidentally shoot someone.

The most popular sentiment among middle and high school students is a viewpoint similar to that of Nel Wright, an eighth grade student who is okay with highly trained teachers being armed and guns secured out of the reach of students.

Every parent I surveyed took issue with armed teachers. Many raised concerns about parent notification and the ability to opt out of a class where a teacher is armed or a gun is present. Random teachers from across the county echoed the sentiment of parents in that guns have no place on a teacher's to do list.

Compliance to the safety measures in the statute are a requirement of each school district.

In a July 23, 2019, Miami Herald article, "Some districts not complying with post-Parkland school safety laws, grand jury says", an interim report was released containing findings of the grand jury convened by Governor DeSantis to ensure compliance with the new safety legislation.

Without naming the districts, the report identified evidence of noncompliance among some school districts.

Districts can choose the safety option that best meets the needs of the families and teachers. Hillsborough County chose to use technology in the form of a security system, which provides teachers with a Crisis Alert badge worn around their neck, which increases decreases the response time for a law enforcement officer to arrive at a specific location on a school campus.

Columbia County Superintendent Alex Carswell explained in an email to my mom that the Columbia County School District is compliant with the statues by having an SRO in each school. He also responded to other concerns:

Question: Will the district create a standing g policy on how it will handle arming teachers in schools?

Superintendent Carswell: We do not have a policy, because at this point we are not using them.

Question: Does the district plan to began implementing the new rule in this school term?

Superintendent Carswell: No

Question: If the district plans to implement the new rule what schools will allow teachers to be armed in this school term?

Superintendent Carswell: No teachers and not planning to at this time.

Question: Will parents be informed that their student's teachers are armed?

Superintendent Carswell: Not going to arm them.

Question: Will parents be given an opportunity to have their student placed in classroom where no firearm is present?

Superintendent Carswell: Again, not going to arm them.

Mr. Carswell also included the following: "I personally do not want to arm teachers, but I do believe we will move forward at some point with using a "hybrid" guardian model. It would be like Pasco County's. They hire security guards that are armed. They are not LEOs' [law enforcement officers].

The Safety Plan for the District is a public record and available upon request.

For now, the database tracking students with mental health issues along with social media posts of all students is being challenged by thirty groups including the ACLU.

We will have to wait and see how the Columbia County School District plans to implement that requirement.

Victoria Coker is an eighth grade student in Columbia County, a member of the National Honor Society, and a cross country runner. The article was written with a little help from her mom.

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