AP NEWS

Commission OKs recommendation to arm teachers in Florida

January 2, 2019

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The commission investigating a shooting massacre at a Florida high school unanimously approved its initial findings and recommendations Wednesday, including a controversial proposal that teachers who volunteer and undergo training be allowed to carry guns.

The 15-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission’s 446-page report details what members believe happened before, during and after the Feb. 14 shooting attack that left 14 students and three staff members dead and 17 wounded.

The report, which the commission sent to Gov. Rick Scott, incoming governor Ron DeSantis and the Legislature, is also critical of the Broward County sheriff’s deputies who failed to confront suspect Nikolas Cruz, and of Sheriff Scott Israel, whose office did not at the time have a policy requiring them to rush the three-story freshman building where the shooting happened. Israel’s critics hope the report will result in DeSantis suspending Israel shortly after the new governor takes office Tuesday. Israel has said that he has done nothing to warrant his removal.

The report also details failures in the county school district’s security program that members believe allowed Cruz, a former student known to have serious emotional and behavioral problems, to enter campus while carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in a bag.

Even since the shooting, not all Florida school districts and campuses have been taking security seriously, the report says, noting that several districts have been slow to complete mandated reviews of their safety plans and procedures.

“Safety and security accountability is lacking in schools, and that accountability is paramount for effective change if we expect a different result in the future than what occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” the report says.

Among the panel’s chief findings and recommendations:

— State law should be changed to allow teachers who pass an intense training program and background check to carry concealed weapons on campus. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the panel’s chairman, argued last month for the change, saying teachers are often the ones who have the best chance to stop a school shooting quickly. Under a law passed after the shooting, districts can elect to arm non-classroom employees such as principals, other administrators, custodians and librarians who undergo training. The only teachers allowed to arm themselves are current or former police officers, active military members or Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructors. Thirteen of the state’s 67 districts arm non-teaching employees, mostly in rural parts of the state. The state teachers union and PTA oppose the proposal to arm teachers. They argue that adding more armed people will make campuses more dangerous and say teachers should not also be acting as armed guards.

— Deputy Scot Peterson, the long-time school resource officer assigned to Stoneman Douglas, “was derelict in his duty” by not entering the freshman building and confronting Cruz. Video shows Peterson drawing his gun and taking cover outside the building. He retired shortly after the shooting and has denied wrongdoing. The report also criticizes other deputies who failed to enter the building during the shooting, but praises officers from the Coral Springs Police Department who quickly ran inside.

The report says Israel is partly to blame by eliminating a requirement that his deputies confront active shooters, in direct contrast with current law enforcement practices. Israel told the commission he did not want his deputies engaging in suicide missions. He has since changed the policy again, however, to require deputies to confront shooters.

— Neither Stoneman Douglas nor the Broward School District had clear procedures for locking down classrooms during a shooting, which led to a three-minute delay in classrooms being shut and “left students and staff vulnerable to being shot.”

The commission includes law enforcement, education and mental health professionals from around the state, a legislator and the fathers of two slain students.

Cruz, now 20, has pleaded not guilty to the shooting, but his lawyers say he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.