Effort to hire more school guidance counselors hits snags


Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — As a proposal to arm teachers sucks up all the publicity, another effort to address school violence by identifying early warning signs has quietly struggled to gain traction in the Florida Legislature.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has proposed hiring more guidance counselors to help identify troubled students at a young age. But some lawmakers are concerned about the cost so Detert overhauled the bill in recent days to remove the controversial language.

Instead of requiring a certified counselor for every 300 students, or 350 in elementary schools, the legislation now makes minor changes to the legal definition of a guidance counselor.

The change was necessary to keep the bill moving forward in the Senate Education Committee Monday, Detert said, but she still hopes to add some of the earlier language back as an amendment in a later committee stop.

Detert is working on a compromise that would require every school to have at least one guidance counselor, but even that proposal could depend on the price tag.

“We’ll have to see what the costs are,” she said.

Detert was hoping the guidance counselor legislation would attract more support in the wake of the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., especially since there are more federal funds for school safety this year.

“If we had more guidance counselors in second grade maybe they could identify these kids before they get to high school and come to school with a gun,” Detert said.

Still, Detert acknowledged that the bill could be “a big hit on the budget.” She plans to keep pursuing the issue and hopes it will gain more traction as the state budget improves.

Detert’s legislation and the bill filed by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to arm teachers illustrate the wide range of school safety proposals being debated in the wake of the Newtown shooting.

Detert first filed her legislation last year, before the shooting. It has gained more resonance since the attack, but some lawmakers are still skeptical. Meanwhile, Steube’s bill cleared a House committee last week, though it remains a longshot to pass the Legislature.

The two bills mirror the national debate on school violence. Some officials have focused on addressing the root causes of violence, while others emphasize defending schools against armed assailants.

Detert said school officials can only go so far to “barricade yourselves tightly in a building” and repeated a phrase she believes sums up her bill.

“If we have more guidance counselors we’ll need fewer grief counselors,” she said.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top