School Climate & Safety

At a Glance: Betsy DeVos’ Federal Commission on School Safety

August 28, 2018 4 min read
The school safety commission set up by President Donald Trump after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting has held more than a dozen formal meetings and other sessions since March.
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President Donald Trump set up the Federal Commission on School Safety in March 2018 in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead. Trump appointed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to chair the commission, which has spent the past five months holding formal meetings, field visits with invited speakers and experts, and listening sessions with the public, some in Washington and some around the country.

Here are some key points about the commission, its mission, and the controversies that have surrounded it.

Members

Chair, Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education

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Jeff Sessions, Attorney General

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Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services

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Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security

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Mission

“Quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school. These recommendations will include a range of issues, like social emotional support, recommendations on effective school safety infrastructure, discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases, and the impact that videogames and the media have on violence.”

Deliberations

In hearings and public comment sessions the commission has heard from a range of experts, educators, and the general public on issues including the wisdom and value of arming school staff members, the importance of student mental-health services, how to preserve student privacy rights while sharing information that may help identify risks of violence, and the roots of that violence.

The commission’s most extended public debates so far over the relationship of guns to school safety have been about whether to arm teachers—an approach favored by Trump—and how to increase the number of armed school resource officers.

But the panel has drawn criticism for steering clear of the politically explosive topic of gun control, both in its witness lineup and in the thrust of the conversation. It has also been criticized for not seeking a diversity of viewpoints and accused of limiting or suppressing comments.

The commission’s official web page states that in addition to its formal sessions, “Meetings and correspondence with students, parents, teachers, school safety personnel, administrators, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, school counselors, security professionals and other related stakeholders will be critical to the commission’s work as well.”

But one leading gun-control group—the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence—says its repeated requests to testify at a panel have been ignored. March for Our Lives, the youth-led group founded in response to the Parkland attack, has not been invited, either. “They’re the federal government. They should reach out to us,” said Parkland survivor and gun-control activist David Hogg.

DeVos told a Senate committee on June 5 that firearms are “not part of the commission’s charge, per se.” She has said the question of whether to arm teachers should be a local, not a federal one. And Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill denied that the commission is limiting debate on gun control, noting that there are several ways—outside of invited panels and field visits—for the public and interested parties to submit comments, including in writing or at public listening sessions.

“Throughout the public listening sessions, field visits, and meetings, as well as in the public comment inbox, there has been discussion about gun control,” Hill said. “However, it is important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current guns laws. That is Congress’ job. The commission is focusing on tangible solutions relating to many aspects of school safety that don’t necessarily require an act of Congress.”

Meetings, Hearings, Listening Tours

March 28, 2018
Organizational meeting
Washington

May 17, 2018
Meeting with experts and survivors of mass shootings
Washington

May 31, 2018
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Field visit
Hanover, Md.

June 6, 2018
Public listening session
Washington

June 21, 2018
The Ecology of Schools: Fostering a Culture of Human Flourishing and
Developing Character. Commission meeting

Washington

June 26, 2018
Public listening session
Lexington, Ky.

July 11, 2018
Curating a Healthier & Safer Approach: Issues of Mental Health and Counseling for our Young. Commission meeting
Washington

July 24, 2018
Transforming School Climate and Culture to Meet the Behavioral Needs of Students. Field visit
Adams, Wis.

July 26, 2018
Proactively Protecting Our Schools. Commission meeting
Washington

Aug. 1, 2018
Proactively Protecting Our Schools. Field visit
Pearcy, Ark.

Aug. 7, 2018
Public listening session
Cheyenne, Wyo.

August 16, 2018
Creating a Citadel of Learning: New Tools to Secure our Schools, Inside and Out. Commission meeting
Washington

Aug. 23, 2018
Best Practices for School Building Safety. Field visit
Las Vegas

Aug. 28, 2018
Public listening session
Montgomery, Ala.

Sources: Education Week, the Federal Commission on School Safety, Tribune News Service
A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2018 edition of Education Week as At a Glance: The Federal Commission on School Safety

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