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White House to Push School Safety Bill, Form Task Force, Help States Train Armed School Staff

By Evie Blad — March 11, 2018 4 min read
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The White House plans to unveil a school safety proposal Monday that centers on pushing for Congress to pass existing bipartisan legislation that would provide support for violence prevention and intervention in schools. Versions of the STOP School Violence Act have already been introduced in the House and the Senate.

The Trump adminstration will also form a school safety task force, chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to examine existing successful safety measures in states and districts, and it will support states that choose to arm school staff members. The administration will also review federal privacy laws to determine if there are ways to improve coordination between education, healthcare, and law enforcement sectors. And it will support a so-called “Fix NICS” bill that would seek to ensure more thorough records in the existing background check system for gun purchases.

The policy proposal will be the White House’s first formal response since 17 people died in a Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In the time since, President Trump has met with survivors of school violence and victims’ family members.

Some policies Trump has voiced support for in the weeks since the shooting won’t be included in the White House proposal, including comprehensive background checks and raising the age for certain gun purchases to 21.

DeVos visited Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

“We’ve had to talk about this topic way too much over the years, and there’s been a lot of talk but very little action,” she told reporters Sunday.

DeVos said the task force would meet with a variety of practitioners, including teachers, and that it may provide some recommendations for policies at the state and district level. A senior administration official could not provide a specific timeline for the group’s work, suggesting that a deadline might stifle the deliberative nature of its task.

Beyond a focus on gun laws, discussions after school shootings should also focus on ensuring consistent access to mental health care and effective prevention, DeVos said.

“Far too often, the focus has been only on the most contentious fights, the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners,” she said.

Among the items the task force may study, according to an administration official:

  • Age restrictions for certain firearm purchases
  • Potential repeal of Obama-era guidance designed to address racial disparities in school discipline (Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has called for the guidance to be reexamined, and civil rights groups have said he’s misguided. More on that here.)
  • Rating systems for video games
  • Character education and “connectedness”
  • The effects of press coverage of mass shootings
  • Improved access to mental health treatment
  • The “effectiveness and appropriateness of psychotropic medication for treatment of troubled youth”

STOP School Violence Act

The STOP School Violence Act has been supported in the past by groups like Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded by parents of children who died in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A version of the bill was introduced in the House by Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., before the Parkland shooting. Since that shooting, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. The House plans to take up the measure this week. Read more about the House STOP legislation here.

Read more about the House bill here.

The bill would reauthorize and amend the 2001-2009 bipartisan Secure Our Schools Act to offer grants to states to “implement proven, evidence-based programs and technologies” that would help train students and teachers to identify risk signs for violent behavior, fund anonymous systems for reporting threats, improve coordination between schools and law enforcement, and fund risk assessment and intervention programs in schools.

The White House will also call on more states to allow for armed school staff and teachers.

Trump has called schools “soft targets” and he’s called for states to “harden” them by arming some teachers and school staff members, a proposal that has been broadly panned by educator and school police groups. The White House plan will include support for such training through existing Department of Justice programs, a senior administration official said.

The White House will also call on states to adopt extreme risk protection orders that allow law enforcement to temporarily seize weapons from people deemed a threat. Such a measure was included in a gun and school safety bill Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed into law Friday in his state.

Hours after Scott signed Florida’s bill, which did raise the age for all gun purchases to 21, the National Rifle Association challenged that provision in a lawsuit.

Photo: A memorial to victims of a school shooting outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. --AP