TAMPA -- Your child's third-grade teacher might be packing more than a lesson plan in the classroom if a bill designed to make schools safer becomes law.
In response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut late last year, Rep. Greg Steube wants to allow principals in Florida to select one or more teachers who would be allowed to carry guns at school. Those teachers would have to possess a concealed weapons permit and undergo extensive firearms training, the Republican from Bradenton says.
As schools across the nation wrestle with how to make their campuses safer in the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown that left 26 dead, Steube said he has the proper solution.
Arm one teacher at one school. Arm three at another school. There could be five or more teachers packing pistols at still another.
"It would be a good deterrent," said Steube. "The bad guys aren't going to know how many or who's carrying in a school. They don't know if nobody is designated or if 10 people are designated."
There is plenty of opposition, however, to House bill 1097, which is currently assigned to the K-12 subcommittee.
"I thought it was a horrible idea the moment I saw it," said April Griffin, school board chairwoman in Hillsborough County. "I just don't think our teachers need to be worrying about protecting their students with weapons."
Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association in Tallahassee, agrees.
"We have a resolution opposing any teacher or administrator carrying a gun on campus," said Blanton. "We will not support that in any capacity. We are as clear as you can be on this one.
"Teachers are there to be role models for our students," Blanton added. "Role models don't need to be carrying guns on campus."
Even law enforcement is skeptical.
"We would prefer to allow teachers to educate children and law enforcement to protect children," said Col. Jim Previtera of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "We just think law enforcement should be left to law enforcement."
In Hillsborough County and across the Tampa Bay area, school resource officers typically are assigned to only middle and high schools.
But since the Dec. 14 shooting that left 20 students and six adults dead at Sandy Hook, deputies from the sheriff's office, along with Tampa police, have a presence in Hillsborough elementary schools as well. They will be doing that until the local school district figures out a permanent solution to the security issue.
Earlier this year, the Hillsborough school board rejected a plan to spend more than $1 million out of the district's contingency fund to hire 130 additional security officers to be put in place at elementary schools.
State Rep. Mike Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey, hopes the state can provide funds so districts can put armed police officers in schools instead of armed teachers.
"Our teachers are there to teach," he said. "Let them be teachers and let law enforcement do their jobs and protect our schools."
Hillsborough school board member Doretha Edgecomb agrees.
"I would rather see us put in well-trained resource officers in our schools," she said. "I don't think teachers should be acting in the place of a guard."
Steube says his measure would be especially helpful to schools in rural locations such as Manatee County. It could take as long as 20 to 25 minutes before help could arrive from law enforcement if a shooting occurs, he said.
His bill would require teachers or other school personnel to carry the gun or have it kept in a locked place, such as a safe. Those allowed to carry would have to complete 60 hours of training, not some four-hour course.
The lawmaker, whose father is the sheriff of Manatee County, said he has heard plenty of positive feedback -- including some from principals who want to carry weapons themselves. He said the bill would change the mentality now that allows people with bad intentions to think they have a free pass at elementary schools.
"We stand a hell of a lot better chance having someone respond to an armed gunman who has a firearm," Steube said. "I would feel more secure knowing there is someone there who is armed."
But Griffin, the Hillsborough school board chairwoman, wonders about the potential of something going wrong with weapons in the hands of those whose jobs are to teach, not shoot.
"There are definitely some tragedies I could foresee happening," she said. "I want fewer guns in our school, not more." ___
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