Florida Legislative Update for the Start of 2020: School Security
Here is your Florida Legislative Update:
Since the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day in 2018, the Florida Legislature has been grappling with some very weighty issues regarding school security.
Prior to the events in Parkland, Florida lawmakers had not considered serious changes regarding K-12 school security other than annually funding the Safe Schools Allocation incorporated into the state’s FTE school funding. Since then lawmakers have spent the last two legislative sessions crafting new policy and adding additional state funds to provide resources to harden school facilities, increase mental health services, provide better law enforcement tools, and increase school resource officers on school campuses.
These policy changes and additional state funds were certainly needed and were put in place to protect students and teachers and ease parent’s minds about sending their children to school each day.
The problem is that most of these changes cost money, and in many cases much more money than the Legislature is able to appropriate, leaving it to school districts and charter schools to figure out how to pay for these new mandates. Charter schools feel the biggest pinch of all when it comes to financial resources, and now it may have cost a school its charter.
Since 2018, Florida law has required all schools have a sworn law enforcement officer or trained guardian on school premises during school hours. Championship Academy of Distinction in Davie was having issues with securing a full time, certified security officer the first day of the school this August.
After investigating the situation, Broward County Schools determined Championship was in violation of state law and voted to immediately terminate the charter contract with the school’s governing board and assume its operations. This is the first time a Florida school district has terminated a charter school contract for this reason and in such a quick fashion.
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran was critical of the board’s action and sent a letter to the Broward School Superintendent recommending alternatives to immediate termination, but at the present the School Board has not altered its position and continues to run the charter school as a district school. The charter school governing board has filed an appeal and has asked for an expedited hearing, but the case has yet to be taken up by the Division of Administrative Hearings.
This unprecedented decision by the Broward County School Board to take over a charter for security reasons, while arguably allowed under current statute, is sending a chill throughout charter schools around the state and is bound to have statewide ramifications regarding school security.
This has also caught the attention of a number of state legislators.
The Florida Senate President sent signals in early August that he intends to pass some form of gun legislation this session and has said all options are on the table as his chamber reviews the various factors involved in mass shootings. The school security issue is sure to factor into these major policy discussions in the upcoming legislative committee weeks leading up to the regular legislative session beginning in January.
There is no disagreement over the importance of school security. How the state achieves the proper balance of “stick versus carrot” in achieving a suitable outcome still seems to be further into the future. Let’s hope the state legislature can find that balance sooner rather than later for the good of all of us involved with ensuring that our public K-12 education system supports the needs of all students.
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