A proposal to allow school staffers to carry guns and spring into action in the event of a school shooting has divided a Florida district.
After the Brevard County sheriff's office recently suggested the idea, hundreds of school employees quickly volunteered to do double duty as armed undercover marshals.
But the pitch has stoked controversy in the 75,000-student school district, intensifying the debates about gun control that followed the Parkland massacre in February. Many educators and parents fear the proposal could make the county's schools more dangerous.
"It's a nonsolution and it's not going to make schools safer," said Dan Bennett, the president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers, a local union.
Critics of the plan, known as the Sheriff-Trained Onsite Marshal Program, or STOMP, are gearing up to try to derail it before the county school board votes next month.
A spokeswoman for the county sheriff, Wayne Ivey, said he was not available to comment on Thursday.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, which killed 17 people, lawmakers and school districts across the country have debated various measures to combat gun violence. President Donald Trump proposed arming America’s teachers with concealed weapons and training them to “immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions” — but the idea was panned by experts.
Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a “school safety” bill that, among other provisions, allows trained school workers to carry handguns.
STOMP would be limited to full-time personnel like vice principals, cafeteria workers and custodians — but not classroom teachers.
The district recently polled 700 eligible school workers, and about 260 of them — close to 40 percent — said they would be interested in serving, according to Matt Reed, the assistant superintendent.
Even if the proposal clears the school board, those people would not be armed immediately. The county would require participants to undergo more than 130 hours of training over about five weeks during the summer, including 80 hours of firearms instruction. That training would be overseen by the county sheriff's office.
Tina Descovich, one of five members of the school board, said various liability and insurance issues would need to be "ironed out" before the proposal could become official policy.
"We're still in the information-gathering phase," Descovich said, adding that the county had scheduled some community forums before the vote on May 8.
Teachers, concerned parents, gun control advocates and others blasted STOMP at a public forum on Tuesday night.
Bennett, the union president, said he and his fellow federation leaders did not see STOMP as "a true security program" since "only real law enforcement officers are trained to do full-time security."
"If you're the custodian, you're primarily doing your job. You're not eyes and ears all over the building. And if you're a principal, you're a pretty busy person, not a sheriff's deputy," Bennett said.
"You ever walk into a bank and see armed security guards? Well, what if they got rid of the guards and gave the guns to tellers? It would be ridiculous," Bennett added.
Ivey, the county sheriff, has suggested schools only consider personnel with law enforcement or military backgrounds, according to Descovich.
It was not immediately clear how the undercover volunteers could be differentiated from actual assailants in the event of a crisis, like a school shooting. The volunteer marshals might wear "some kind of identification," such as an arm band, said Reed, the assistant superintendent.
Those who oppose the proposal would prefer that the county and state invest in more school resource officers — full-time employees responsible for safety and security.
"We don't want anybody doing double-duty at the schools," said Melissa DeFrancesco, a leader of the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter in Brevard County.
"I don't believe that principals and janitors should have to do their job and at the same time be expected to jump into action during an active shooter situation."