By Sunshine State News
The Florida Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed Senate Bill 7030, which implements the legislative recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, including the ability of eligible teachers who volunteer to carry guns.
The legislation builds on the enhanced school safety and security requirements established in the 2018 bill, SB 7026.
In a statement issued by the Senate president’s office, President Bill Galvano said, “In the year following the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission worked diligently to investigate system failures in the shooting as well as prior mass violence incidents and developed comprehensive recommendations to enhance school safety and strengthen school district accountability.”
Galvano, R-Bradenton, was sponsor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Public Act of 2018.
“I am very pleased to see this critical school safety legislation pass the Senate today. When we established this Commission last year, I made a commitment to take these recommendations seriously,” Galvano said. “This legislation continues our efforts to proactively enhance coordination between education, law enforcement, and community mental health resources to ensure at-risk students receive the help they need before a tragedy occurs. The bill also sets forth a plan to help school districts implement the security and school hardening provisions of the legislation we passed last year in an expedited manner to help prevent those who would seek to harm our children from gaining access to our schools.
“Unfortunately, no amount of funding or public policy enhancement can anticipate or prevent every bad act. With this reality in mind, this legislation implements the Commission’s recommendation to expand the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program to allow willing teachers, who meet significant training and background screening requirements, to serve as School Guardians,” said Galvano. “Seconds matter when stopping an active shooter. This legislation will ensure willing school personnel, including classroom teachers, have the training and resources they need to stand as the last line of defense between an innocent child and a violent criminal assailant. As the Commission resumes its work this year, my colleagues and I will continue to monitor the investigation and recommendations as part of our ongoing effort to enhance school safety and reduce the possibility that a tragedy like this will ever happen again.”
Enhances Communication and Reporting of Threats
To improve communication and reporting of active and potential threats to student safety, SB 7030 standardizes risk assessment data collections and compliance by requiring the use of a uniform school security risk assessment tool and including first responders in the assessment. The bill clarifies that the Office of Safe Schools (OSS) must make the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool (FSSAT) available to schools no later than May 1 of each year. Schools have until Oct. 15 of each year to complete the security risk assessment using the FSSAT.
The legislation addresses the identification of student safety issues by requiring a standardized, statewide student threat assessment process and requiring improved reporting or school safety and discipline incidents.
The legislation also promotes the FortifyFL mobile suspicious activity reporting tool and requires active assailant response plans. Specifically, the bill clarifies that districts must report incidents involving any person that occur on school premises, on school transportation, and at off-campus, school-sponsored events.
Expands Resources Available for Mental Health Services
SB 7030 expedites services for students with mental or behavioral disorders and provides for the continuation of intervention services for students who transfer to a different school.
To ensure school districts have the resources to implement this recommendation, the legislation expands the authorized uses of the mental health assistance allocation and provides school district flexibility for expenditures.
Expedites Implementation of School Hardening Requirements
The bill directly responds to the Commission’s concerns regarding the ability of, and pace at which, school districts are implementing security portions of the MSDHS Public Safety Act by establishing a workgroup to review campus hardening policies and recommend a prioritized list of strategies and the estimated costs of and timeframes for implementation.
The legislation also provides school districts with greater flexibility by authorizing the transfer of additional categorical funds within the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) towards school safety expenditures and expands authorized uses of the safe schools allocation.
Provides School Districts with Options to Maximize School Safety
SB 7030 continues to give school districts options to implement the requirement for at least one safe-school officer (SSO) at each public-school facility. The legislation includes four SSO options: (1) School Resource Officer; (2) School Safety Officer, law enforcement employed by district; (3) School Guardian; and (4) School Security Guard.
The legislation authorizes a school district, if the school board chooses, to allow school personnel, including classroom teachers, to volunteer to serve as a School Guardian in the district. The bill also allows a school district to send its private security guards through Guardian Program training in order to serve as safe-school officers for the district. A charter school may also choose to participate in the School Guardian Program or contract with a security agency for private security guards.
SB 7030 keeps school boards in charge of deciding whether their school district will opt to participate in the Guardian Program; and, who in the school district will be given an opportunity to volunteer for the program. The bill does not mandate any employees or teachers in a school district to volunteer to be a Guardian. If a school district chooses to participate in the Guardian Program, the school board may still choose to limit which school employees can volunteer to participate in the program. A school district that chooses to participate in the Guardian program can also choose to prohibit its classroom teachers from volunteering to participate in the program.
If a district employee volunteers for the program, he or she must meet school district requirements to be eligible to participate; meet the Sheriff’s Office requirements to be eligible to participate (background and psychological screening); and, pass all training and testing requirements to the Sheriff’s satisfaction to be certified as a Guardian. Finally, even if a volunteer meets all requirements, an individual may not serve as a Guardian unless appointed by the superintendent.
The bill also increases collaboration between school districts and law enforcement agencies by authorizing a superintendent to designate a law enforcement officer as the district school safety specialist.
Additional legislation is progressing to implement MSDHS Commission’s Recommendations related to 911 emergency services (SB 536), duty to warn in threat situations (SB 7048 and SB 1418), and funding to support and sustain school district investments in school safety and security enhancements (SB 2500).