Earlier this year the Florida legislature voted to expand its Guardian program to allow teachers to be armed. Since then, the Parkland School Resource Officer, Scot Peterson, has been charged with negligence. Leaving even more questions about the responsibility and liability armed teachers face.
Are All Florida Teachers Going to Be Armed?
The short answer is no. The Guardian program allows each school district in Florida to vote as to whether or not they will participate in the program. According to the Florida Department of Education, as of May 30, 2019, 30 out of 67 were participating in some form of the Guardian program.
Senator Ed Hooper, who voted in favor of expanding the bill to arm teachers, stands by his decision. He tells Parentology, “Based on the recommendations of the Stoneman Douglas commission, this allows the districts to decide. There may never be an armed teacher in the state of Florida and that’s perfectly okay, too.”
Will Armed Teachers Have Support?
Teachers who choose to be armed must participate in a 144-hour training course and pass a psychological screening. After that, the support is unclear. The Florida Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union, isn’t able to offer help because they oppose the idea of armed teachers.
“We’re absolutely opposed to arming teachers. It would introduce all kinds of safety issues into the classroom,” FEA President Frederick Ingram tells Parentology.
Equally concerning is the question of liability for teachers who participate. These teachers will no longer have the state’s support should they face a lawsuit or legal action. According to The Miami Herald, the state recently changed the Department of Education’s insurance policy to exclude coverage for claims arising out of “armed instructional personnel while acting in the scope of their activities for the educational institution.” Leaving teachers who choose to arm themselves further exposed.
Where Does Responsibility Begin and End?
The answer remains unclear. When asked about the liability that participating teachers may face, Senator Hooper says, “There’s no definitive answer yet. This is all so fresh and new. There will need to be legal opinions and discussion to determine that. But, if I were a teacher, I would want to know.”
According to Ingram, “These are issues of responsibility and legal liability. If an active shooter situation arises, do armed teachers stay with their classes and protect their kids, or do they run out to confront the shooter?”
In light of the recent charges against the Parkland Resource Officer, the question of what armed teachers will be held responsible for becomes even more confusing. “Could they be charged with a crime for failing to leave their students and going after the assailant?” Ingram asks. “We don’t know, but we do know that arming teachers will create new, potentially deadly risks for our students and school staff.”
Arming teachers started out as a controversial issue and remains the same. Even though the legislation has passed, the reality of armed teachers in the state of Florida leaves many unanswered questions. Legal, professional and personal liability will all likely come into question as parties on both sides seek to find answers.