Judge hears arguments in lawsuit over armed school staff

Parents sued in November 2018 to keep armed civilians out of public schools

Should armed guards patrol Duval County's elementary schools? Parents took that legal fight in front of a judge Monday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The legal effort to keep armed school employees out of Jacksonville's public schools hit a snag Monday in a hearing over whether to dismiss a lawsuit filed by parents and activist non-profit organizations.

Circuit Judge Robert Dees appeared to side with arguments made by the Duval County School Board's attorneys, who contend that the school district has the authority to employ school safety assistants, or armed citizens hired to patrol schools and intervene in the event of an active shooter situation. He'll wait a week before handing down his ruling.

"Even though I think it was a passive way to authorize guardians to carry firearms ... I do think that they intended to bring school guardians with the exception to those who are prevented from carrying firearms on school campuses," Dees said, according to Florida Times-Union education reporter Emily Bloch.

At the heart of the lawsuit is whether these school safety assistants can legally carry firearms on school property. The safety assistant program was inspired by Senate Bill 7026, a law passed in the wake of the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that required schools to hire armed personnel. The two sides have clashed since November 2018 over whether these assistants are exempt from state law that bars anyone besides law enforcement from carrying firearms on campus.

DOCUMENTS: Read a copy of the lawsuit

Among other things, attorneys for the parents and activist nonprofit organizations that joined the suit argued that there was no clear provision in SB 7026 that changed existing state law governing who can and cannot bring weapons onto school property. They contended that the presence of armed people who lack the training of law enforcement could make students and staff less safe.

"We think that when you put more guns in the hands of people other than trained law enforcement, in a location including schools, that does make children less safe," said Sam Boyd, senior attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents parents in the case. "We really think that there ae other options that the legislature can consider other than increasing the security apparatus around schools that would actually have a much more significant effect at improving school safety."

The school district disagrees.

"Our position is that this inference isn’t ambiguous at all," said City Attorney Jon Phillips, who represents the School Board. "It’s very clear what school safety assistants have to do."

Once the judge rules, the plaintiffs will have the option to file an amended version of their complaint or file an appeal. It's unclear what they intend to do.

About the Authors:

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.

Marilyn has been Digital Director since October 2021. She supervises Jacksonville's number one news website and most trusted source for local news.