LABELLE — A LaBelle High School English teacher was arrested Friday on charges of possession of a weapon on school property.
Lisa Horton, who just started teaching in Hendry County this semester, has a Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) permit. According to the press release from the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office, “On Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, at approximately 9 a.m., school officials were alerted that a teacher, Lisa Horton, that had been hired to teach English at LaBelle High School had disclosed to another teacher during a conversation, that because she had a CCW permit, she carried a gun with her to and from school. When asked if she had the firearm, she told the person she was speaking with that it was in her vehicle that was parked in the school parking lot.
“It should be noted that Mrs. Horton did not carry the firearm into the school itself; it was being kept in her vehicle. She did provide a valid Florida Carry Conceal license. However, Florida Statute 790.06(12)(a) clearly states: “A license issued under this section does not authorize any person to openly carry a handgun or carry a concealed weapon or firearm into… any school, college, or professional athletic event not related to firearms; Any elementary or secondary school facility or administration building.
“School administrators took immediate action notifying the School Resource Officer who was able to safely secure the firearm. LaBelle High School administrators followed all procedures implemented in accordance with Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.”
“Our stand has always been no guns on campus,” said Hendry County Superintendent of Schools Paul Puletti. He said the school board policy on weapons is online at hendry-schools.org and available not only to school employees but also to the public.
Florida Statute 790-115 states persons who have a valid concealed weapon permit for the State of Florida may have their weapons locked in their vehicles on school grounds, “except that school districts may adopt written and published policies that waive the exception in this subparagraph for purposes of student and campus parking privileges.”
The Hendry County School Board policy states the “no guns” rule applies to all property owned or leased by the school district, said the superintendent. That includes the parking lots, he said.
He said the teacher in question was hired in August and was on probationary status.
Mr. Puletti said parents with CCW permits who are dropping off students don’t have to worry. “If it is a transient nature of a person picking up children, that’s different than a car that is parked there all day,” he explained.
He said the school resource officers will not search a car at a school event unless they have probable cause. “We’re not going to search parents’ cars unless there is some reason to do that, some kind of threat,” he explained.
Mr. Puletti said he knows a lot of people in Hendry County carry guns because it’s part of the culture. He said there are probably more guns on the streets in the rural South Florida communities like LaBelle and Okeechobee “than in downtown Baghdad.”
In the early 1980s, during hunting season, students brought their guns with them to school and locked them up in the school safe, he recalled. While guns are part of the rural culture, area residents have to respect the change in the laws, he added.
“The world we live in has dictated changes,” he said.
Mr. Puletti said those who have CCW permits would be wise to stay updated on the changes in gun laws.
Okeechobee County Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy said Okeechobee County has zero tolerance for school-related crimes. He said the student handbook and employee policies explain that only certified School Guardians and law enforcement officials may have guns on campus.
“We believe our policies sufficiently cover us to say that you can’t have a gun on campus,” he said.
“We view it as a policy violation rather than a criminal activity,” Mr. Kenworthy said. If a school employee had a gun in his or her vehicle on campus, “I think we would handle it in house rather than having the person arrested,” he said.
Mr. Kenworthy said they are not overly concerned about parents with CCW permits. When parents are picking up students, most of the time the driver doesn’t even get out of the car, or if they do, it is only for a short time. That is different from an employee’s car that is parked in the same place every day, he explained, especially if others learned that person regularly had a gun in the vehicle.
He added it is not practical or legal to search parents’ cars in school parking lots. “There would have to be some kind of threat or compelling reason for us to get involved,” he said.
“There is nothing stopping a person who has a CCW permit from having their weapon in their vehicle unless it is posted at the entrance to the property,” said Okeechobee County Sheriff Stephen. The sheriff added that part of carrying a concealed weapon is to keep it concealed.
“Don’t show it off or tell people about it,” he said. “Be discreet. Keep it to yourself.” Even if you only tell one person there is a gun in your car, you have no control over who else that person might tell or who else might overhear their conversation.
Glades County Superintendent Scott Bass said the Glades County School Board “opted out” of the state exception that allows firearms in locked cars in school parking lots if the owner has a CCW permit. He said Glades County prohibits employees from having firearms on campus unless they are law enforcement officers.
Palm Beach County School District also bans guns in vehicles in school parking lots. The policy specifically states: “Prohibition in School Parking. For the purposes of student and school campus parking, the Board waives the exception in Sec. 790.115(2)(a)(3), Fla. Stat. Thus, no person shall possess a firearm in any vehicle, locked or unlocked, parked on any school property, at any school facility, or at any school sponsored events.”
Collier County schools also prohibit guns in vehicles in school parking lots. The website collierschools.com states: “Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) prohibits anyone from keeping any weapon or firearm in a private vehicle on school property, even if weapon/firearm stays in the vehicle, is securely encased and is not readily accessible for immediate use, except as authorized in support of school-sanctioned and supported activities, including but not limited to property leased, owned or contracted for by CCPS, a school-sponsored event or in a CCPS vehicle.”
Even in a parking lot of a school that does not have a policy prohibiting firearms on the property, firearms may not be taken out of the vehicle in a school parking lot. In addition, under federal Gun Free School Zone Act unless you have a CCW permit, taking a gun within 1,000 feet of a gun-free school zone is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison.
In Florida, CCW applicants must be at least 21 years old (or 18 for active military), pass a background check and have completed a firearms training course.