7WJHG by Stephanie Byme
August 22, 2018
BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – As students are packing their book bags, their teachers might be packing heat.
A program allowing some school staff to carry a gun on campus is now in effect in Bay County, but you’re not going to know much about who is protecting your children.
“This is one more layer of security that the legislature authorized us to move forward with,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.
Sheriff Ford spent the summer coordinating the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.
It aims to save lives by having armed staff on the front lines, but who are these teachers carrying guns in Bay County schools and how will they react in a crisis?
“State law allows us, when dealing with safety and security issues, to not have to release that information,” Bill Husfelt, Superintendent of Bay District Schools, said.
That’s because lawmakers passed public records exemptions under the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. It keeps school safety plans secret, but you won’t know if your child’s teacher is armed.
“One of the important key components of the Guardian Program is that the secret nature that we’re allowed to maintain for those people that have taken the 145 hours of training, we want to protect them, protect their identities,” Husfelt explained.
That also helps protect schools.
“We don’t want people to know what schools they’re at, you know, specifically, anybody that would be intent on harming the kids,” Sheriff Ford said.
Does it protect rights though?
Barbara Petersen, President of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, said the new laws restricting the public’s right to know are concerning.
She gave us a statement, saying in part, “This exemption, while perhaps well-intentioned, precludes any opportunity for public oversight of the program and the importance of public access to such information cannot be overstated.”
She went on to say people should be allowed to know who has been designated and how they performed in the training.
When WJHG/WECP made a public records request about the Guardian Program, the only information we received was that fewer than 100 people signed up, but we don’t know how many people completed the training.
Sheriff Ford assured us that the program was intense and armed teachers are prepared.