Parkland shootings: Governor expects ‘major reform’ on school safety by next week

In the wake of the Parkland shootings, Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that he expects “major reform” on school safety by March 9, when the Florida Legislature session is scheduled to end.

Scott spoke at a news conference at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office headquarters to tout his $500 million plan, which Sheriff Ric Bradshaw called “fantastic.”

Scott, legislative leaders offer plans in response to school shooting

“We have the money. We have to spend the money,” Scott said.

Under Scott’s plan, every public school will have to have at least one armed school district police officer on campus all day, and the county’s high schools will have two or more. Scott’s plan calls for an armed officer for every 1,000 students.

Scott also called for every public school to have a dedicated mental health counselor on staff, in addition to any guidance counselors they already employ. Currently, most schools don’t have dedicated counselors.

“I’ve met with families that lost loved ones, students, teachers, parents and everybody says the same thing — you’ve got to make a change,” Scott said. “We cannot take a chance of this ever happening again.”

Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was among the 17 people who died Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, urged lawmarkers to act on Scott’s plan.

“This time must be different,” Petty said, who was joined by his son Patrick, who is a Stoneman Douglas student. He urged lawmakers not to get “mired” in the gun-control debate and arguments about the Second Amendment.

“I want to be the last parent to get up and say he lost a daughter in a school shooting,” Petty said.

House ethics panel subpoenas PBSO in Douglas High mass shooting probe

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa was on hand for the news conference, as well, along with district Police Chief Lawrence Leon.

At the news conference, Avossa and Leon said they agree with Scott that teachers should not be armed. Some have argued that allowing teachers to carry firearms might keep students safer during school shootings.

“If everything was done right, Parkland wouldn’t have happened,” Bradshaw said.

Later Thursday, both Scott and Petty were in Tallahassee urging House and Senate members to pass his plan. 

The Legislature has presented its own school safety plan. While there are many similarities with Scott’s proposal, the plans differ on the issue of arming teachers. The House and Senate proposals would train teachers who would be allowed to carry concealed weapons in their schools, whereas Scott wants either deputies or police officers in every school.

Petty told the Senate he came “to speak in support of what the governor is proposing.” 

Scott told reporters after his visit to the House, “I do not believe in arming teachers.”

The Florida Democratic Party released a statement following Scott’s announcement criticizing the governor for failing to discuss a ban on assault weapons, such as the AR-15 used by Nikolas Cruz on Valentine’s Day.

“It isn't just our schools that need protecting — it's our churches, nightclubs, movie theaters, and malls — and that doesn't happen until we have an assault weapons ban,” spokeswoman Caroline Rowland said in the statement.

Thursday’s news conference was held at PBSO headquarters, one county and about 40 miles north of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which re-opened for students on Wednesday.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Scott Israel in particular, have been blamed for the agency’s response to the shootings. Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Sunday to investigate that response while Republican lawmakers urged the governor to dump Israel, a Democrat.

Staff writer George Bennett and capital correspondent Kenya Woodard contributed to this story.

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