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Parkland, Florida, school district rejects funds to arm teachers

(Reuters) - The Florida school district that includes the high school where a gunman massacred 17 people has rejected its share of new state funding to be used for arming teachers, county officials said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend a memorial following a school shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Thom Baur/File Photo

The Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland ramped up a long-running U.S. debate on gun rights and sparked a youth movement led by survivors of the attack, many of whom have been critical of the idea of arming teachers.

The Broward County School Board, which oversees Stoneman Douglas and other schools, said in a statement it had voted unanimously against accepting money from a $67 million statewide program, signed into law last month by Governor Rick Scott as part of a package of gun-control and school safety measures.

Board members want Scott, a Republican who earlier this week launched a run for the U.S. Senate, to allow them to allocate the money in other ways, such as providing additional funding for school resource officers (SROs) - trained law enforcement officers that are often already armed.

“For them to dictate to us that this money can only be spent to arm our employees is a travesty,” school board member Robin Bartleman said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“What I want to see happen is the legislature free up that money to districts so we can use it for mental health programs or to hire more SROs.”

In addition to creating the fund to allow school staff to be trained and deputized to carry guns on the job, Scott signed measures that raised the state’s minimum age to buy any firearm to 21 and imposed a three-day waiting period on gun purchases.

The $67 million Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after a coach who was among those killed in the Parkland massacre, allows local sheriffs and school districts to opt out if they wish. Most classroom teachers are excluded from volunteering for the program, a compromise aimed at earning the support of the governor and many lawmakers who had initially opposed the idea.

A 19-year-old man who had been kicked out of Stoneman Douglas used a legally purchased AR-15 assault-style rifle in the February attack.

An armed sheriff’s deputy had been present at the school campus in suburban Fort Lauderdale when the third-deadliest school shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history began, but failed to enter the building where the shooting was occurring.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalba O’Brien