School Climate & Safety

Emotion Meets Policy at School-Safety Panel’s Listening Session

By Alyson Klein — June 12, 2018 4 min read
Michael Yin, a recent high school graduate from Montgomery County, Md., speaks out at a listening session hosted by the Federal Commission on School Safety, where he argued against the arming of teachers in schools and in favor of gun restrictions.
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Don’t arm teachers. Monitor students on social media. Give schools more mental-health resources. Hire more school resource officers—or not. Keep Obama-era guidance aimed at curbing discipline disparities between minority students and their peers. Ban assault weapons.

Those and dozens of other proposals for preventing the next school shooting poured out last week at a daylong listening session held here by the Federal School Safety Commission, set up by President Donald Trump after February’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Much of the advice at the June 6 event did not appear to be in line with the policy preferences of the administration. Trump has called for arming certain teachers and even directing federal resources to give bonuses to school staff members willing to carry concealed weapons. His Department of Education is considering scrapping Obama-era guidance that pushed school officials to ensure that their discipline policies don’t have a disparate impact on students from specified racial and ethnic groups. Speaker after speaker urged against both moves.

It’s unclear what the panel, which met at the Education Department, will make of the recommendations. The commission’s chairwoman, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, wasn’t in the room to take in the suggestions. She was on a trip to Switzerland, part of an on-site examination of career and technical education and school choice in three European countries.

None of the other cabinet secretaries who are part of the commission, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, attended either. But each sent a representative.

Advocates have criticized the panel for not including educator voices and for moving too slowly—and with too little transparency.

Just a day before the listening session, DeVos told a Senate subcommittee that the commission would not be exploring the role of guns in school violence. That’s despite a prior White House statement that the commission’s work was to include examining age restrictions on particular firearms purchases.

Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais, who presided over the listening session, clarified that the panel will not be looking at “confiscating” existing weapons. He said the commission will explore “narrow” issues related to gun safety, including age limits for purchasing some firearms, and issues related to gun ownership and mental health.

Abbey Clements

“You must understand how fast shootings happen and how chaotic and confusing it is. There’s no way to determine who and where the gunfire is coming from. Say I had a gun. Would I have left my terrified children? Never.”
Abbey Clements, a 4th grade teacher for the Newtown public schools in Connecticut, who was teaching at Sandy Hook Elementary School the day in 2012 that 26 students and teachers were killed there.

Amina Henderson-Redwan

“At the age of 9, I watched my father die. ... I was arrested when I had an anxiety attack. I tried to walk away from a peace circle, and a security guard pushed my head into a chalkboard.”
Amina Henderson-Redwan, a youth organizer with the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education committee, who said she’s lost friends to gun violence. She has struggled with mental illness, and she said police haven’t always been helpful.

Alessia Modjarrad

“Why are we allowing our government to be so strongly influenced by NRA-backed lobbyists at the expense of American lives? No other country has the same proliferation and culture of guns as the United States of America.”
Alessia Modjarrad, a student in Montgomery County, Md., who said she and other student activists back gun-control measures. Among those are universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines. They also have sought mental-health-care reform, she said.

“There’s so much we can change that doesn’t even begin to infringe on the Second Amendment. We need to do a much, much better job of making sure guns don’t get into the hands of the wrong people.”
Michael Yin, a newly minted graduate of the Montgomery County, Md., public schools.

Pat Champion

“For all schools and communities, police presence may not, does not equal safety. Teachers with guns do not equate to safety. ... Children need to feel emotionally and socially safe.”
Pat Champion, a mother and the co-chairwoman of the Champion Foundation, who talked about the death of her son, Robert Darnell Champion. He died after being violently hazed at Florida A&M University in 2011. She said she doesn’t think arming school staff, proposed by the president, is the answer.

“School safety will be best achieved in an environment that teaches virtue and expects noble character. We must return to the idea that these values are worth pursuing in our schools and classrooms.”
Jamison Coppola, a legislative director for the American Association of Christian Schools, who said there’s a “spiritual dimension” to the school safety discussion.

Jamison Coppola

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2018 edition of Education Week as Emotion Meets Policy at School-Safety Panel


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