School safety: Post-bill debate begins in Lee County
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a school safety bill on March 9, the first legislation toward gun control in the state since the Parkland school shooting.
Senate Bill 7026, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, makes changes in regard to gun control and mental health. The $400 million bill focuses on funding for mental health, arming school staff, increasing school security and further gun control measures.
Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins said there are many aspects of the SB 7026 bill he supports and will work with the district to find a solution that fits best for the county.
“I am thankful that the governor and the Florida Legislature have taken quick action to make changes that directly impact student safety and the mental health crisis that we face in our community, and communities across Florida,” Adkins said.
Funding will also go toward improving the safety and security for school buildings, mental health resources for students, reporting tools for suspicious behavior and training for school security.
The most controversial part of the bill is the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which allows for the arming of some school staff if approved by the local school district and the sheriff’s office. The staff will undergo 144 hours of training before being able to carry a firearm at school and is completely voluntary. This was named after the coach who shielded himself to protect students from being shot at the Parkland shooting.
Each district will decide if they want to participate in the program, and Adkins said many have reached out in regard to the controversial part of the bill.
“Now that the governor has signed SB 7026 into law, I will work with our law enforcement partners, staff, students and their families to determine what is in the best interests of our district,” Adkins said regarding arming staff. “Ultimately our goal is to have an SRO (school resource officer) in all of our schools, and two in our larger high schools.”
Steven Teuber, school board member for District 4, said he does not fully agree with the safety bill, and there needs to be more of a focus on mental health.
“The Lee County School District has been working on school safety long before this incident, and to look at the school security issue in isolation, I think you’re doing a disservice to the incident itself,” he said.
“My big frustration is that the state Legislature is putting through requirements and mandates without funding them and they’re not giving us any money to fortify schools,” Teuber said. “To me, it all goes back to local control. Give the local schools money and let them decide how best to incorporate safety.”
Teuber also said he does not think arming teachers is an efficient way of improving students’ safety at schools. He believes it is not the teachers’ responsibility to carry a firearm around school.
“Personally, I don’t feel we want to put the burden on our teachers,” Teuber said. “Those people are being hired to teach, they’re not being hired to defend, so for us to put that extra responsibility and burden, I think is displaced.”
Mary Fischer, school board member for District 1, said there are many components of the bill that will help with school safety, and there are measures that need to be taken to help.
“We all are working very diligently just to be sure that we are providing our kids with an environment and a culture that has them be more cohesive and look out for one another,” Fischer said. “For me, a big part of it is relationships, because when teachers and administrators at the school build relationships with the kids, then they’re more likely to identify someone who is needing help.”
The bill says it is putting $69 million toward mental health resources and assistance in schools and $98 million toward improving the security for school buildings.
There will also be $25 million going toward the destruction and rebuilding of the building at Marjory Stoneman High School where the shooting happened.
“Overall, I think it was incumbent for the state legislation to do something, I think they did something to move us forward and to help with the situation,” Teuber said. “But I think until we get a better emphasis on mental health in Florida and across America, I don’t think it’s going to change.”
The reaction from the public has been fairly mixed. People have expressed support for the extra funding for mental health and the banning of bump stocks. However, raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm has been a controversial decision.
“We’re doing a lot more collaborating with our community agencies and providers and we think that’s gonna help also with keeping our kids safe,” Fischer said. “You know for us, the safety of our students is a priority and so we want to thank parents for trusting us with their kids, and we want to assure them we’re doing everything we can to be sure their safety is guarded.”