TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of a Florida teacher who was fired after he left an unloaded AK-47 rifle on the center console of his truck in a school parking lot.
Robert Kilbride, an administrative law judge, said that Joel Potts should keep his job, citing a law that gives authority over gun regulations to the state, the News Service of Florida reported. The 25-page decision described the move by the St. Lucie County School Board to fire Potts as an “unenforceable and infirm” school-board policy aimed at keeping guns off campus.
“The Florida Legislature has preempted all issues regarding possession and use of firearms in Florida,” Kilbride wrote, according to the News Service of Florida. “Under its statutory scheme, carrying or storing a firearm in respondent’s (Potts’) parked vehicle did not constitute unauthorized possession of it, and respondent’s actions were protected.
“The simple and straightforward conclusion is that the firearm policy enacted by the School Board is unenforceable and cannot serve as the basis to conclude that respondent violated the policy. As a result, respondent enjoyed the benefit of the Florida law which permits an individual to carry a securely encased firearm or one that is not otherwise readily available for immediate use, in his vehicle.”
Potts, a teacher at the Dale Cassens Education Complex, an alternative school in Fort Pierce, was fired after a passerby spotted the weapon in the teacher’s truck on Sept. 2 and reported it to a school resource officer, the news agency reported.
The gun was not loaded but 39 rounds of ammunition were located in a plastic bag inside the console, the News Service of Florida reported.
After a recommendation from St. Lucie County Superintendent Jon Prince, the school board approved a “petition for termination of employment” and the case was forwarded to the state’s Division of Administration Hearings.
While the county contended that Potts left the weapon “in plain view,” Kilbride ruled that Florida law allows people to have guns in their vehicles “if the firearm or other weapon is securely encased or is otherwise not readily accessible for immediate use.”
The ruling is a recommended order that must be acted upon by the school board for a final action, the News Service of Florida reported. The judge recommended that the board should withdraw the suspension and restore Potts’ back pay and benefits.
In a statement on Tuesday, the St. Lucie County school district “does not agree with the decision,” TCPalm.com reported.
“The school district is exploring its options,” the statement said. “The employee in question was non-reappointed and is not eligible for rehire.”
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