Florida’s armed teacher training needs serious improvements

Imagine you’re the only good guy with a gun who’s positioned to stop an active shooter at a local school before there are mass casualties.

There’s a hallway full of horrified kids stampeding toward you.

At the other end of the hall is the shooter — approximately 35 yards away.

You can see his weapon, but all that’s exposed is his head which, unlike targets on a flat range, is moving constantly. His center mass is concealed behind running students.

You have to take immediate action.

Can you take the shot with confidence? Can you hit a moving head-sized target at 35 yards, with a handgun, in a confined space that’s chock-full of innocent children?

Not too many people could take the shot confidently. This type of precision shooting takes years — if not decades — to master. It’s hostage-rescue level shooting. This is the realm of the Tier One guys, but it could easily be something an armed teacher may encounter in their school.

Improving the state of firearm training was one of our most important goals when we started this website more than six years ago. It’s something we have personally and professionally harped on over the years — the need for realistic, non-theory based gunfighter training, taught by seasoned instructors who have proven their mettle in actual gunfights.

It was through this prism that we examined Florida’s School Guardian program, which will be used to train teachers and select school district personnel when SB 7030 is signed into law.

The bill, which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign, requires Sheriffs to establish a training program for arming school staff.

We examined the Guardian curriculum from two Sheriffs’ Offices. The two programs were nearly identical.

In my humble opinion, this curriculum is woefully inadequate. It needs to be upgraded and improved immediately — before it becomes the statewide standard for arming teachers and staff.

Misaligned priorities

The 148-hour course is broken into seven training blocks/lesson plans: Active Shooter, 8 hours; Basic Firearms, 80 hours; Defensive Tactics, 8 hours; Simulator training, 8 hours; Precision Pistol, 16 hours; Legal, 12 hours and Diversity Training, 12 hours.

One immediate concern is that the training blocks, according to the curriculum, appear to be designed for law enforcement and not new shooters such as teachers and other school staff.

To be clear, most of the Guardian Program is just a cut-and-paste from law enforcement training manuals.

Active shooter: This training block begins with a history of active shooters, from Columbine to the bloody siege in Beslan, Russia.

Those are good case studies to examine, as they show two very different threats, but then the class morphs into tactical movement and becomes an abbreviated SWAT 101.

Included under “law enforcement’s response to active shooters” are tactical movement techniques: two-man, three-man and four-man.

Even more worrisome is “Basic Room Entry” including the SWAT classics — button hook and crisscross.

There’s a section on overcoming obstacles — L shaped and T shaped — as well as T, Y and traditional diamond formations.

My biggest problem with this module is the lack of time. It’s an eight-hour course. There’s no way to successfully incorporate the history lesson and a shortened SWAT manual into eight hours. A basic course just on room entry and tactical movement should take weeks — months. It certainly can’t be adequately taught in an afternoon.

Besides, does anyone think a bunch of teachers are going to act as a SWAT element? Spend the precious training hours on shooting.

Basic Firearms: This lesson plan is very aptly named. It is basic — very basic — and very clearly designed for rookie deputies.

Topics include “Be familiar with ammunition identification and maintenance” and “Demonstrate handgun use on the range.”

The course covers basic handgun fundamentals and includes a qualification course.

In my humble opinion, the training is dated. It still teaches the kneeling, standing and prone positions as well as the “tactical ready stance.”

More worrisome is the one-handed “Hip Shooting” instruction, from one to three yards.

Teaching hip shooting — shooting without using sights — is a dangerous practice, regardless of the distance. But teaching it to new shooters is even worse, since they lack the ability to quickly estimate range and, therefore, may shoot from the hip at distances exceeding one to three yards, resulting in a miss and a bullet headed somewhere it shouldn’t be going.

There is no training in this lesson plan on how to draw from concealment — and that’s a pretty serious omission since teachers will be carrying their handguns concealed.

Drawing from concealment takes thousands of repetitions to master and it’s not even mentioned in the curriculum.

Defensive Tactics: Most of this eight-hour module is dedicated to handcuffing: carrying handcuffs, applying handcuffs, applying handcuffs in the standing position and applying handcuffs in the prone position.

I doubt any teacher will ever carry handcuffs.

This class also covers disarming techniques — albeit old-timey techniques — for handgun and long gun disarming.

Lastly, there’s about an hour dedicated to one of the most critical defensive skills — handgun retention. However, like the flat-range handgun training, this too is geared for uniformed officers, as it stresses “Standing holstered handgun retention.” Again, there is no mention of concealed carry.

One of the major criticisms that the move toward arming teachers faces is the idea that students can strip their teachers of their firearms. Therefore, solid retention skills should receive much more attention — perhaps as much time as is allocated to Diversity Training (12 hours).

Precision Pistol: This 16-hour course is a step in the right direction, but it too is clearly lacking. It’s an improvement over the Basic Firearms course, but it too is very, very basic.

Students are taught controlled pairs, magazine changes, two- and three-target failure drills, weak hand shooting and a small amount of movement while shooting.

Still, it too requires students to use exposed holsters. Again, there’s no thought given to concealed carry.

Takeaways

To be clear, I strongly support arming teachers and select school district personnel, especially since a recent study proved that schools that allow teachers to carry guns haven’t suffered a school shooting. 

However, the teachers need to be trained — well trained.

The one thing that basic concealed-carry classes have shown us is that most shooters stop training after they get their concealed-carry permit. It’s a poor practice, but it happens. In my humble opinion, training should never stop.

So, we can expect most teachers to stop training once they’ve graduated from the Guardian program. Therefore, the program needs to be refined and updated to something that comes closer to preparing them for the threats they could face. It should not be a SWAT-lite or wannabe-deputy course.

As it stands now, Florida’s Guardian program is a joke — a sick joke — and it needs to be fixed immediately, since the likelihood that the state will allow armed teachers is high.

Our teachers and our children deserve much, much more.

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

12 Comments

    • Chris Englert on

      I would listen to this guy. I have received
      defensive tactics from Clint Smith, Paul Howe ( Black hawk down) and others. I have had active shooter training as well as a competitive shooter for almost 50 years. What he says makes good sense

  1. Why did they have to photoshop the Pietro Beretta 92fs markings & Logo from that classic handgun???

  2. There must be some type of ongoing qualification for the armed teachers put in place, similar to the firearms qualification police officers attend several times a year to maintain proficiency with their weapon as well as continued & updated training on additional tactics.
    Training is paramount, lots of training. I know from experience that you will react as you are trained.
    This is by no means a perfect solution, but if implemented properly may serve as a deterrent as well as save lives, God forbid something should happen.

    • Joel Estey on

      I have always wondered why schools don’t replace “Weapon/gun free zone” signs with something like “Armed staff on site”. Even if staff weren’t armed the “possibility” of such might deter criminal activity. I’m going to check Washington State RCW to see why those signs can’t be removed or replaced.
      Thoughts?

  3. John McCarron on

    Arming teachers is a cheap political shot and they shouldn’t buy into this. Money money and more money as well as benefits and pensions to pay is what Tallahassee politicians are trying to avoid by not putting a well trained officer in each school whose sole purpose is to be there for security reasons. Trying to make teachers more than teachers will probably prove to be a hard learned lesson. It’s like having a teacher in a prison act as a corrections officer as well as teach inmates. In my 25 years as an officer I never saw the teacher focus on security as much as teaching and when they did it didn’t always turn out positive. But the legislators have acted and therefore good luck.

  4. Manuel E Gutierrez on

    The time may come when metal detectors at school entrances may be demanded by the people with children in schools.

  5. This curriculum seems misguided. We don’t need a school-resource-officer-lite. We need point defense on steroids. I didn’t see any mention of medical trauma training.

    • “I didn’t see any mention of medical trauma training.”

      I was thinking the same thing…Thanks for bring it up.

  6. John A Gnauck on

    It is time.to measure results, not speculation.
    Starting with the opening scenario of a “hallway of panicked students” doesn’t describe reality.as evidenced by past shootings.

  7. I found this article incredibly thought provoking. I am carrying concealed in a school environment. To the best of my knowledge I am the only armed staff member in the school. I have taken some training. But I don’t claim to be the expert. Ongoing training with the best trainers I can find is my goal. I am sincerely thankful for the article and the concerns it raises.

    Regarding the opening scenario. No. I couldn’t make that shot. And, no, I wouldn’t try. Honest question for the author: does that make me deficient and unqualified to carry concealed in a school?

    As an honest follow up question: can most law enforcement make that shot? If they can’t are they unqualified to enter the school and engage the shooter?

    Second, what training standard should armed school staff attain unto? Is there a minimum required to begin carrying? What about an eventuality or long term training goal?

    I have interacted with several in the firearms training realm regarding this training question and am looking for all feedback I can get.

    Dave Grossman suggests arming staff at schools, on school buses, and in churches (my context is a church run private school). He suggests that staff receive training, but suggests the training standard not be raised so high that you cannot implement an armed staff program.

    A local trainer with whom I’ve interacted agrees with the author of this article in describing the scenarios as Tier 1 special ops tactics. Yet he was willing to begin training me recognizing I wouldn’t reach that standard immediately or, frankly, ever. (Full disclosure: I haven’t trained with him primarily due to scheduling and other training opportunities I have/am pursuing.)

    The local trainer works with an attorney. This attorney is a military veteran and shoots IDPA. He’s no dummy when it comes to having some sort of understanding with what is required here. (He’s not former LEO and has no spec ops experience. I am not implying that his experience–or anyone else’s–on par with the author.) He wrote us a legal opinion on whether I can legally be armed in my school environment. He encouraged me towards training and described the training I received in high terms. He didn’t discourage me from becoming armed even recognizing the honest limitations of the amount of training I would be able to receive.

    I trained with Tactical Defense Institute in West Union, OH. John Benner is a 25 year SWAT veteran. His primary training partner is also former SWAT (7 years if I recall correctly). TDI wrote the curriculum for armed staff in OH. That program is becoming active in places like CO and IN as well. I can tell you what I received in the Level 1 course is not as lengthy as what the author describes for FL. There is some overlap. (I will be taking Level 2 in a month as well as taking Massad Ayoob’s MAG40 class this August.)

    I guess my observation is that opinions on what kind of training should be required seem to be varied depending on who you ask. I’ve been asking everyone I can think to ask: If I am carrying concealed in a school, what training standard should I aspire to have? I would appreciate it if Mr. Williams could address that question. I’m ready to hear that I am not qualified to carry concealed in a school if that’s his sincerely-held opinion. But as the Russian Spetsnaz are quoted as saying “If not me then who? If not now then when?”

    One more thought: TDI taught us to shoot close quarters shots from a retention position (high rib cage). The context was not 1-3 yards, but more of a situation of being under direct attack at bad breath distances where a full draw and extension of the firing stance was not possible. I obviously cannot speak to the FL training requirement. But I sincerely do appreciate the author’s caveat on perceived distance.

    Again, sincere thanks to the author for engaging in this important topic. If Mr. Williams has time to respond to my questions, I would count it a privilege to hear from him. Forgive my lengthy post.

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