Senate Bill 7026 appropriates $400 million in funding for school-safety measures and mental-health programs.
School-safety advocates earned a victory with the success of a state bill that includes multiple provisions related to gun reform and school security.
Senate Bill 7026, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, is a 100-page bill being touted as the state’s first successful passage of a gun control measure in two decades.
The bill barely survived the state Senate with a vote of 20-18 on Monday, March, 5, and was approved 67-50 by House representatives after a contentious eight-hour debate on Wednesday, March 7.
On Friday, March 9, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law, despite his reservations about a controversial provision regarding the school marshal program, which allocates $67 million to fund the School Marshal Program.
“Every student in Florida has the right to learn in a safe environment, and every parent has the right to send their kids to school knowing that they will return safely at the end of the day,” Scott said Friday. “Today, I am signing bipartisan legislation that helps us achieve that.”
The school marshal program was named the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program in honor of the high school assistant football coach who died trying to protect students during the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The program works on a volunteer basis, offering Florida school districts and sheriff offices the option to train and arm certain employees with guns, including counselors, coaches and librarians, but not full-time classroom teachers. However, Orange County Public Schools has agreed not to volunteer in the program.
“OCPS School Board members have openly expressed their opposition to arming teachers in our schools,” OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins wrote in an email. “The new law provides $67 million specifically for arming school personnel. We had hoped ... that those dollars would be combined with funding for additional School Resource Officers. Such an adjustment would have allowed districts to use all of the funds for SROs if preferred. We are disappointed this option will not be available.”
The guardian program also concerns parents involved in M.O.V.E., a local group of parents that formed after the Parkland shooting and advocates for school-safety issues. Julie Sadlier, a community advocate and co-founder, said the group agrees with gun ownership rights but holds a firm stance regarding guns in the classroom.
“We are not excited about teachers or school personnel being trained to carry firearms, because we feel our teachers and school staff should be there as educators,” Sadlier said. “And with the testing standards and the pressure of other things they have to worry about ... the last thing they need to worry about is where to lock up their gun. So while we’re not happy about that, we’re ecstatic we were able to move mountains, because for the first time in many years, we’ve taken a stand in Florida to actually put some sort of gun reform on the books.”
The bill does not ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, or address background check procedures for gun purchases. However, it does establish new gun restrictions.
Bridgewater Middle School Principal Andrew Jackson agreed it is a step in the right direction.
“I’m all for anything they can do to provide security and safety, but my concern is always: Is it funded and is it funded adequately?” he said. “Because they tend to have initiatives that are unfunded and that ends up being a burden on the schools. And every time we add another layer of security, it challenges one of the purposes of a school, which is to be an open community space. So as we get tighter and tighter, it makes it tougher for the community to come and enjoy our campuses.”