Will Arming Florida Teachers Protect or Harm Students of Color?

Will Arming Florida Teachers Protect or Harm Students of Color?

Photo: Giles Clarke/Getty Images

A Florida law that would allow public school teachers to be armed has been met with controversy. Some civil rights advocates and students of color worry it opens the door for racial bias.

According to the legislation, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed earlier this month, teachers who want to carry weapons must undergo 144 hours of training, including firearm instruction, precision shooting, active shooter scenarios, and diversity training. They also must pass a psychological evaluation and a drug test.

While implicit bias is a required part of the training, groups like the NAACP question whether this law will actually keep students safe, especially black and Latino students.  

Students of color are already under stricter supervision in schools and adding guns to the mix could make matters worse, said Tiffany Dena Loftin, director for the NAACP Youth and College Division.

“If a teacher who I know constantly suspends students of color because of their behavior, if at any point they feel unsafe, them having access to [a gun] — on their hip, in the classroom, under their desk, wherever it is — could result in continuing the catastrophes that we’ve seen across the country when it comes to endangering black lives,” she said.

The law comes more than a year after the Parkland, Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And despite the criticism, some lawmakers say it’s a necessary safety provision and believe an armed teacher should have the ability to protect their students in an emergency situation.

“We need to stop treating our teachers like second-class citizens,” said Republican Rep. Dane Eagle. “Grant them the opportunity — not the mandate, but the opportunity — to protect themselves and others if they choose to do so.”

But many students and teachers of color believe that placing guns in classrooms is not the answer.

“I think this law is a step backward,” said Janice Robinson-Celeste, who previously taught in Flagler County, Florida. “Then you add in teachers who don’t understand children of color and you have a disaster in the making.”

Jaylin Cole, a rising junior at Middleton High School in Tampa who is also African American, thinks firearm training will be insufficient for teachers with no background experience in emergency situations.

“These teachers don’t know how to handle themselves in these situations, and you can’t expect them to,” Cole said. She added, “In schools like mine where we have a large population of African American kids, you can see that some teachers are automatically not going to know how to handle students of color….A teacher’s job is to guide and help students further their academic success. We’re trying to turn them into police officers or soldiers, and that’s not what they signed up for.”

Florida’s teacher gun training program is available statewide, but is only active in counties that choose to opt-in and currently there are 30 counties registered.

“I’m honestly scared for the students that are in those counties,” Cole said.

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