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Jacksonville-area district leaders don't want to see teachers armed

President calling for teachers to carry weapons after Parkland massacre

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Public schools throughout Florida are gun-free zones.

That's something President Donald Trump would like to see change.

Trump renewed his call Monday for some teachers and staff members to be armed to help prevent future mass shootings following the deadly massacre in Parkland.

But leaders in Duval and Clay counties say asking teachers to function as law enforcement is a bad idea.

RennaLee Paiva, president of the Clay County Education Association, said arming teachers is the last thing her district needs.

“Armed teachers who are in a stressed-out profession is the worst idea I think I’ve ever heard,” Paiva said. “This is a tragedy.”

Paula Wright, chair of the Duval County School Board, said she hopes she never sees teachers armed in Jacksonville.

“I think that we have to understand that police and teachers are both professions. Teachers are professionals who want to help to prepare our students for their adult life, to be a part of a civic-minded community,” Wright said. “To assume that it’s easy to say, ‘OK, Ms. Wright, we’re going to arm you, and you’re going to be a quasi-police officer,’ is not realistic.”

Retired Jacksonville Sheriff's Office SWAT Cmdr. Rick Parker, who now teaches at Flagler College, said he would also hesitate to arm teachers unless they have a background in weapons and have been properly trained.

"If you're a former military person and you're a current teacher, now then, that person would know what I'm speaking to if you're currently teaching. You've got training," Parker said. "But if you're a traditional teacher, this puts you in an awkward and uncomfortable position. And I can emphasize with that, but I come from a completely different place."

He said the idea of arming teachers or school staff raises a host of questions, like where teachers would secure their weapons and who would ensure their training.

“It still doesn't answer the question that law enforcement and administrators have to answer right now,” Parker said. “There's a gap in time between when the intruder gets on campus, and he's armed and the shooting starts. There's still a gap in time between when the shooting starts and when law enforcement arrives. The teacher's already there. The kids are already there. The students are already there, and that's what they're facing in every state right now.”

Gov. Rick Scott has a different plan to improve school safety in Florida.

LIST: Ways Gov. Scott wants to keep Florida kids safe | 
ACTION PLAN: Bullet points of Gov. Scott's plan

That plan includes adding a school resource officer for every 1,000 students at every Florida public school and installing safety features like metal detectors and bulletproof glass. 

It also focuses on improving mental health services, an effort Paiva welcomes.

“This is a multifaceted problem,” Paiva said. “Our guidance counselors, all they do is test. They don’t even get the chance to do their profession anymore. I’m a guidance counselor, so I know what that is. Our social workers are overworked (and) underpaid. I think we have 13 in the entire county.”

Districts and sheriff's offices throughout Northeast Florida have shared their responses to Scott's plan, indicating most of them support the changes, as long as the needed funding comes with them.

RELATED: Northeast Florida counties respond to Gov. Scott's school safety plan

The West Plains, Missouri, school district started arming some teachers after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, five years ago.

Teachers in the district who pass initial training to carry weapons must also complete 24 hours of additional training every year.


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