Dad upset over NRA program in elementary school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There's a program coming back to life in Duval County schools to teach kids about gun safety. It's called the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program and it's designed to improve safety on school campuses and help minimize threats of school shootings.

But the program is sponsored by the National Rifle Association, and that has one local parent upset.

The parent, who has a third-grader at Hendricks Avenue Elementary School, received a letter sent home from the school allowing parents to opt their children out of the Eddie Eagle program.

That parent was upset, however, because the letter mentions nothing about the NRA.

"In some parts of our country we haven't figured out if we should be teaching evolution," the parent said. "You can't say 'Christmas' in public school, but you can bring in the NRA without letting us know. That doesn't sound right."

Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he understands the NRA can be a controversial organization, but he hopes parents can look past that, adding that the program is helping to protect the children of Duval County.

"Partnering with the NRA can certainly be perceived as being controversial, but at the end of the day if the NRA is able to provide resources to build young children's understanding of the proper use of guns, how to alert an adult when they're present," Vitti said.

The program encourages children to stop when they see a gun, not to touch it and to leave the area and tell an adult right away. Vitti said the district hopes utilizing the program will help prevent tragedies that start by children playing with guns.

"A lot of kids are growing up with guns present in their lives, and they don't know how to positively and preemptively deal with that," Vitti said. "Unfortunately since I've been here, I've seen kids perish because of that."

Vitti said the program was started in Duval County before he became superintendent, but it was beginning to be overlooked. He felt it was necessary to bring it back to life after experiencing children in his district dying or being hurt after playing with guns. One such case was the death of 13-year-old Titania Mitchell, who was accidentally shot and killed when an 11-year-old was playing with a gun in April 2013.

"We're informing students when they see a gun to walk away and to tell an adult," Vitti said. "Never play (with) or touch one and alert an adult if they see a gun, or if another child has a gun, leave immediately and tell an adult, but in no way are guns OK to play with."