Armed teachers in the Keys? No way, school officials say

Students at Key West High School gather around the bus area.
Students at Key West High School gather around the bus area. Keynoter

Top school officials in the Florida Keys rejected the idea of arming teachers with guns in an effort to step up student safety two weeks after the state’s worst mass school shooting.

Monroe County Schools Superintendent Mark Porter said he adamantly opposes the idea.

“Adding more guns to schools is not the solution,” he said.

“It’s a non-discussion item,” said School Board member John Dick. “It’s not going to happen in Monroe County. It’s not going to happen in Florida. It’s not going to happen.”

The discussions came following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in Broward County. Former Douglas student Nikolas Cruz is accused of gunning down 14 students and three faculty members.

“I admire the students at Stoneman Douglas,” School Board member Ron Martin said. “We’ve got to get back to the root of the evil and that is the gun,” though he was not addressing gun control specifically.

Mindy Conn, the board’s vice president, said the panel should be addressing school safety on a regular basis and it needs to top the board’s list of priorities.

“I’ve had too many friends who went to Parkland,” Conn said, tearing up. “We cannot have that here.”

President Trump has called for allowing teachers to have firearms in the classroom and this week a Florida state legislative committee approved a $67 million “school marshal” program that would train and arm teachers, despite vocal opposition from Parkland residents.

Some U.S. schools already have armed teachers trained to respond to a mass shooting. More than 100 school districts in Texas have teachers and other staff carrying a weapon, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Parents expressed their fears of a school shooting happening in the Keys, which is a four-hour drive from Parkland, at this week’s School Board meeting in Tavernier.

Catherine Dunn called for a metal detector at Stanley Switlik Elementary in Marathon and adding a school resource officer to campus. Two other elementary schools in the district lack an officer, as do the six charter schools.

“Let’s not make going to school be scary,” said Allison Sayer of Marathon, adding her worries about her kids have now become daily fears. “Let’s not make going to school a death sentence.”

One teacher said she will never carry a gun into a school building.

“I don’t want to work in a prison, that’s why I don’t,” said Shannon Hickory of Key Largo School. “The day I have to go into a school with six-to-eight-foot-tall fences and barbed wire, or knowing myself or one of my colleagues is armed, I’m finished teaching.”

Hickory said teachers already know to protect their students. “We’re vigilant, we’re doing the drills,” she said.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen