Led by Betsy DeVos—Head Of the Department of Education—the new ‘Federal School Safety Commission’ will focus on “school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.”
When asked if the program would deal with gun violence, DeVos added “That is not part of the commission’s charge, per se.” DeVos has decided to separate the issues of safety in schools and gun violence—which has caused a total of 31 deaths in schools over the course of this past year.
On Wednesday there was a public forum for the new commission. The Department of Education held listening sessions for citizens to voice their concerns and goals for security prior to the commission’s meeting. Students, victims, parents, teachers, and political figures joined together to discuss the issues at hand—but Betsy DeVos was not in attendance.
Many advocated for gun control. “Please consider the possibilities that guns are the most important aspect of the purview of this commission.” stated the recent high school graduate Alessia Modjarrad. Michael Yin, representing The Montgomery Country School District, shared his “student perspective”:
“I graduated from Montgomery High school about 24 hours ago. Standing on that stage was a tear inducing experience and I’m truly lucky in so many ways. But not everyone is so fortunate. The eight students killed at Sante Fe high school will never walk across that stage.The 16 year old girl from great mills high school will never walk across that stage. The students of Huffman high school, Marshall county high school, Wake Forest University, and the 14 students killed at Stoneman Douglas High school will never walk across that stage. Instead of adding more guns to the mix we should go in the other direction.”
Many attendees also expressed the need for a better social-emotional environment in schools. Promoting a safer social environment for students of all types was strongly advocated for. The need for more mental health resources in schools was a common theme during the listenings and the Commission meeting as well.
During the commission meeting the next day, DeVos and her constituents refrained from all discussion regarding gun control. Liz Hill who represents the Department of Education stated “It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress’s job.” Rather, the committee is planning to focus on video game use, the effects of news media, and the consumption of “violent entertainment.” Luckily the committee also plans to focus on improving mental health care and emotional support resources with in schools.
The commission’s refusal to address guns was met with great discontent gun reform advocates, politicians, and school administrators around the country. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said to DeVos directly “you are studying things like how much time is spent on video games and all that but you can go to a lot of other countries where they spend just as much time but they have only a tiny fraction of the shootings that we do.” Gun reform advocate John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for gun safety, put it “What we heard today only confirms what we already knew: The Trump administration is far more concerned with securing NRA support than addressing the root causes of gun violence.”
Devos has held the same stance on gun control and continues to do so. In the past she has produced and supported the approach of arming teachers with guns. She is a strong advocate for second amendment rights. This past January she proposed that having a “gun in the school to protect from grizzly bears” would be effective.
Featured Image via: Flickr/Gage Skidmore