School districts across the state would be notified when employees, especially classroom teachers, are subject to high-risk protection orders.
Under SB 394, the courts would notify school districts when they issue protection orders to school district employees, including school board members or instructional personnel.
SB394 was filed in the Florida Senate by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia. A twin bill, HB 399, was filed in the State House of Representatives by Rep. John Temple, whose districts include Hernando County.
Sen. Ingoglia explained to Hernando Sun that after the school district is notified, depending on district policy, school board members may be notified by the school administration or the superintendent.
The bill states that it may be cited as “Stratton’s Law.” Hernando County School District Superintendent is John Stratton. The notification would include a statement of the order, the date when it was issued, the date it ends, whether a mental health evaluation is required and whether the order requires its subject to surrender all firearms and ammunition.
In addition, instructional personnel are required to disclose any prior arrests, criminal convictions, guilty pleas, and pleas of nolo contendere, including any such records that were expunged, to their employer, in addition to the background screening also required.
Nolo contendere is a plea by which a criminal defendant accepts a guilty conviction without admitting guilt. On March 24, 2023, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office “collected” the firearms and ammunition for safekeeping of a gender-transitioning Hernando County teacher (at Fox Chapel Middle School) who made concerning comments to an assistant principal and guidance counselor. Some of the statements included that she was having “bad thoughts,” “suicidal thoughts” and “that she wanted to shoot some students due to them not performing to their ability.”
A Risk Protection Order (RPO) was issued on March 28 and finalized by the court on April 10. The RPO is in effect until April 9, 2024 and prohibits the teacher from possessing any firearms.
The teacher was allowed to return to the classroom a few days after the March 24 incident. No notification to parents was made by the district at the time of the incident.
Parents received a robocall about the incident on April 10, which prompted them to take their concerns to the April 11 school board meeting. School Board Superintendent John Stratton responded to parents by telling them an incident did occur, and both the District and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office investigated and found there was no danger to students.
However, on April 13, he released a letter to parents, students, and teachers at Fox Chapel, stating that he had been made aware of “new information” provided by the Sheriff’s Office and had now removed the involved teacher from the classroom. The new information, according to a public statement released by the district, pertained to the RPO, mentioned in the HCSO’s April 12, 2023 press release. All of the information gathered by the Sheriff’s Office was documented on their incident report, which was completed and approved by March 25th. The original HCSO report stated that firearms were collected on the day of the incident for safekeeping.
School Board Member Mark Johnson told Hernando Sun that he is in favor of the bill because school administration would be formally alerted about a risk protection order and be better prepared to help children and protect them.
Other school board members declined to comment.
Superintendent Stratton stated, “As it is written, SB 394 will require law enforcement and courts to share information contained within a risk protection order involving school district staff. This proposal will ensure district leaders have timely access to relevant information that may impact campus safety, and that is vital.”
If passed and signed into law, the measures would go into effect on July 1, 2024.
Julie B. Maglio contributed to this report.