JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said his children walk to school every day, and he watches them until they enter the schoolyard, knowing that once they get there, they're safe.
“I turn around and go, because they're in the arms of adults that are going to teach them and take care of them,” Curry said.
But that sense of security was shattered two weeks ago when a gunman opened fire inside a South Florida high school, killing 17 students and teachers.
“I can't even imagine how something like this could happen in a school,” Curry said, appearing emotional.
Gov. Rick Scott joined Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams and other law enforcement and education leaders Wednesday for a news conference in Jacksonville, where he highlighted his $500 million school safety plan.
Scott said Curry's fears are shared by every Florida parent, which is why he came up with the safety plan after talking to educators, law enforcement and mental health professionals.
“When his children go to school, he expects them to come home safe and sound,” Scott said.
Parents of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland expected the same thing on Valentine's Day, when police say expelled student Nikolas Cruz fired into several classrooms at the school, killing 17 children and adults.
Scott denied any political motivation for the changes he's proposing to ensure another massacre doesn't occur in a Florida school.
“There is no political calculation here. I am the sitting governor. I'm a dad, and I'm a grandad. I want every child in the state to be safe,” Scott said. “That's how I came up with my proposal.”
The plan calls for -- among other things -- a mandatory school resource officer in every public school.
Williams said he supports that proposal over the idea of arming teachers, which the Florida Legislature is considering. It's a move the governor and the Duval County school district also oppose.
“I don't think that a teacher should have a dual hat in that area. I think you need to have a professional there to do that,” Williams said.
Scott's proposal also provides sheriff's departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students, if requested by the local school board, and raises the age limit to purchase any firearm to 21.
Williams said he agrees with the age limit change, as long as it doesn't affect children going hunting with their parents. He said it's the difference between possession and purchase.
“I don’t have an issue with that. I am a responsible gun owner and NRA member. I don’t have an issue with someone being 21 to have to buy a gun,” Williams said. “However, whatever legislation is passed cannot impact the ability of a father and son to go hunting.”
Curry said the city of Jacksonville is ready to dive into the changes.
“The city will do its part to make sure that our children are safe,” Curry said. “When we know what resources are needed to ensure that our kids are safe and sound in our schools, we will adjust accordingly in the budget process.”
Williams said his staff will be focused on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and adding the officers at every public school.
“There's a lot of pieces and parts to plug in there to make that work. It's a very complicated issue,” Williams said. “There's not one thing that's going to fix this. There's not a magic wand, so to speak, that we can wave, have one issue correct it and have all this go away.”
Scott also outlined a number of other changes, from a statewide “see something, say something” hotline, website and mobile app to requiring each school to have a threat assessment team and training for personnel in crisis intervention.
He wants every public school to submit a plan to their county sheriff's office by July 1 on how they will meet the new safety guidelines.
Also at the news conference was St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson, who told News4Jax that he is squarely behind the governor's proposal.
"I think kids today, they are looking for elements of improved safety. They said that. Several of the students that we met with that are St. Johns County students said, 'You know, I felt differently going to school the next day when I heard about this shooting,'" Forson said. "Some of our students even knew students from Douglas High School."
Williams and Curry both praised the governor's ability to lead in a crisis.
“The governor was bold enough to step forward with a plan and an idea, and wherever those responsible for enacting these laws, wherever they land, we're going to travel with them to make sure our kids are safe,” Curry said.
Including his own.
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