The first proposal was to put guns in classrooms, into the hands of teachers. Into the hands of my children’s teachers.
The Monday following the Parkland shooting, Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard County announced his “Sheriff Trained Onsite Marshal Program,” or STOMP, a plan to arm teachers and other school staff. From a sheriff who’s gone on record saying that all citizens should carry guns, this didn’t come as much of a surprise. The part that did surprise me was that, standing supportively at Sheriff Ivey’s side as he made that announcement, was Desmond Blackburn, Superintendent of Schools. Really? Our school board thinks this is a good idea?
My insides liquefied as I considered the thousand reasons why this plan would be horrible for our community, as I tried to digest my disbelief that those in charge of my children’s education would think bringing guns into the classroom was a good idea.
At the moment, here in Brevard County, teachers’ contracts prohibit the carrying of weapons of any kind. But Sheriff Ivey and the school board are determined to put guns in schools no matter what teachers, parents, or safety experts think.
The recently passed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act mandates that every Florida school have a School Resource Officer, or SRO – a formally trained, sworn law enforcement officer, employed by the sheriff’s office. In addition to that, the Act introduced the Guardian Program, a provision allowing for the arming of school staff. Not teachers, as in Sheriff Ivey’s STOMP program, but non-instructional staff: principals, vice principals, front desk staff, school nurses, librarians, guidance counselors, and cafeteria and custodial staff. And our sheriff and school board are eager to arm any who are eligible and willing.
But most of us are not willing to embrace guns in our children’s schools. This community does not want the Guardian Program.
Since the plan was announced, Brevard County residents have swarmed every school board meeting begging them not to put guns in our children’s schools except in the case of SROs. A new Moms Demand Action chapter sprang up partly in response to this proposal, and it grows larger every day.
Parents and Moms Demand Action members have sent article after article, study after study demonstrating the risks associated with introducing a gun into an environment, especially an environment where children are present. We have thrown every possible statistic at our sheriff and school board, introduced every possible negative scenario.
We have called, we have emailed, we have marched, we have attended town hall meetings, we have written letters to the editor for the local newspaper. The local paper and members of the school board have run several informal polls asking the community whether they are in favor of having armed school personnel. In each survey, a 65%-70% majority opposes this program.
This community is demonstrably and overwhelmingly opposed to the Guardian Program. So opposed, in fact, that Sheriff Ivey was compelled to admit that the program had become too controversial and should be tabled until we can figure out how to put the mandated SROs in place.
And yet the latest word is that this school board intends to vote 5-0 in favor of opting in to the plan.
Imagine approximately 65% of Brevard parents and teachers collectively tearing their hair out.
They keep reassuring us that the program is voluntary. No one is forcing anyone to carry a gun. It’s purely a voluntary position.
I’m sorry, but voluntary for whom?? That single individual who carries the gun? What about the thousands of other citizens who have spoken out in opposition to this? What about the teachers who would not be comfortable with their coworkers carrying a firearm? What about the children who are afraid of guns (as they should be)? What about students of color who already face discrimination at school, who already don’t trust that every teacher and staff member has their best interests at heart?
The great majority of Florida school districts are wisely choosing to opt out of this program. Of the largest school districts, Brevard County is the only one seriously considering opting in. Even Broward County, where the Parkland shooting occurred, opted out. Seminole County school superintendent Walt Griffin said, “I believe the people carrying weapons should be law enforcement officers and not our employees.”
How is this not obvious to everyone?
We have asked the school board and sheriff’s office to please, please opt out of the Guardian Program and instead focus on putting an SRO in every school—a professional whose only job is to protect the school. Who is not packing secret heat while carrying on with other substantial responsibilities and while whatever skill they gained during their supposedly rigorous training perishes.
Our school board is telling us we cannot afford SROs. They’re saying it’s an unfunded mandate, that we’re $5 million short after the state contribution. But the state has indicated that districts opting out of the Guardian Program could request to have funds re-routed to fund SROs. Our school board chooses to ignore this fact, opting instead to ram this insidious program down our throats.
Not that this school board is known for its skillful financial planning. This board is notorious for wasting precious tax payer dollars on pet projects, like a half-million-dollar armored car service to transport cash from schools to the bank. They voted to give superintendent Desmond Blackburn two raises this school year, a measure that so infuriated the public he was compelled to donate the second raise back to schools. His current salary of $224,000 marks him as one of the top 10 highest-paid superintendents in Florida.
But we’re supposed to believe them when they tell us SROs are too expensive? Pardon me, Brevard County school board, but I’m not eating this plateful of horse shit you’re trying to serve me.
I love where I live, but this plan to force guns into our schools against the objections of the majority is a national embarrassment. The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and school board need to be put under the glare of a national spotlight. These community leaders need to be held accountable for their refusal to hear their constituents. They need to commit to find the money to hire SROs for every school and quit with this ridiculous agenda of trying to fill our schools with more guns.
As if more guns ever made anyone more safe.