School Climate & Safety

‘Pop-Tart Guns’ Now Permitted in Florida Schools, Actual Guns Still Banned

By Evie Blad — May 06, 2014 3 min read
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Florida lawmakers finished the 2014 legislative session after passing a law that bans schools from punishing students for chewing Pop-Tarts into imaginary guns, and after failing to pass another bill that would have allowed some trained and screened employees to carry guns in schools.

The so-called “Pop-Tart bill” actually covers a broader range of actions that may have been previously banned under some school zero-tolerance policies. From the bill:

Simulating a firearm or weapon while playing or wearing clothing or accessories that depict a firearm or weapon or express an opinion regarding a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is not grounds for disciplinary action or referral to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system ..."

But it’s the definitions included in the bill that are getting the most attention. Actions that are now allowed include “brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon” and “using a finger or hand to simulate a firearm or weapon.” If the legislation sounds kind of silly to you, that’s because it should, said some Florida lawmakers, who said overzealous school leaders were disciplining students for such offenses.

Pop-Tarts have actually played a pretty prominent role in the rollback of zero tolerance polices around the country. Frequently cited in support of Maryland’s new state school discipline policy is a two-day suspension issued to an 8-year-old Anne Arundel County boy last year after he chewed a pastry into the shape of a gun at school. A local Republican group later gifted the boy with a lifetime membership to the National Rifle Association.

The federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 required states that receive federal funding to enact policies that mandated expulsion of students found to be in possession of a weapon on campus. But in practice, the law’s reach extended beyond its original intentions as districts expanded the definition of “weapons” beyond firearms and removed students from the classroom for more minor, discretionary offenses, such as school uniform violations, “Pop-Tart guns,” and talking back to adults, critics have said. Education Week took a broader look at the shifting national discussion on student discipline in this January 2013 report.

Many Florida school leaders argued that the “Pop-Tart bill” wasn’t necessary because they wouldn’t issue such discipline anyway, the Miami Herald reported.

But what about actual guns?

A bill that would have allowed some people to carry guns in schools passed in the Sunshine State’s house, but it failed in the senate. If it had passed, the bill would have allowed a superintendent “with approval of the school board, to authorize a school safety designee to carry a concealed weapon or firearm on school property.” Such designees would have been employees and volunteers who were concealed-carry-permit holders and current or former military or police officers. The bill would have also required active shooter and hostage drills in the state’s schools, and it would have required plans for new schools to be reviewed by local law enforcement agencies before new buildings were constructed.

As I said in this blog post, many states (most recently Georgia) have passed similar laws following the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn. The Council of State Governments details some of the new laws from states that allow limited carrying in schools:

  • An Alabama law specifically authorizes schools in Franklin County to form volunteer security teams and to detail plans for team members to have access to weapons.
  • An Arkansas law allows church-run schools to allow concealed carry on school grounds.
  • A Kansas law allows school boards or superintendents to authorize employees with concealed-carry permits to carry on school grounds.
  • An Oklahoma law allows some authorized concealed carry on private school grounds.
  • A South Dakota law allows school boards to arm and train school employees, security staff, or volunteers as “school sentinels.”
  • A Tennessee law allows school staff to carry a gun on school grounds with approval from the school board and the completion of an additional 40-hour training course.
  • A Texas bill created a new kind of law enforcement officer—a “school marshal"—who will be authorized to anonymously carry a firearm on school grounds after completing a special training course.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.