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Betsy DeVos in Florida: Arming Well-Trained Staff Should Be Option for Schools

By Alyson Klein — March 07, 2018 4 min read
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U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos said at news conference in Parkland, Fla., that schools should be given the option of arming school staff, potentially including teachers, who are “expert in being able to defend” schools. But she was also clear that the move shouldn’t be mandatory.

DeVos said any armed school staff must meet “very, very high standards.” She specifically called out schools in Texas as potential models for the nation. She also seemed to make a reference to Polk County, a Florida jurisdiction where at least one private school has designated armed “sentinels” among school staff. These staffers receive 132 hours of training on the use of fire-arms and legal issues, among other things.

Her comments came Wednesday after meeting with students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of a mass shooting last month that left 17 dead.

DeVos’ boss, President Donald Trump, has been outspoken that the country should consider arming ceratin school staff, including teachers. But there are a lot of practical hurdles to the idea. And many Stoneman Douglas students say they’re opposed to the proposal. Instead, they are lobbying state and federal lawmakers for new gun-control measures. DeVos said the idea didn’t come up in her meetings with Stoneman Douglas students.

DeVos also said Congress can take “some practical steps that many, many people agree on” to improve school safety. She specifically referenced the STOP School Violence Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, yesterday. House lawmakers introduced a bill earlier this year with the same name, and it is similar to Hatch’s bill.

Hatch’s legislation would enable the Justice Department to offer states grants to help detect and report people who may pose a danger to others. It would also help pay for training for law enforcement officials, teachers, and even students on how to deal with people who may wish to hurt others.

DeVos’ visit to Stoneman Douglas was closed to the press. But, in the press conference after the visit, DeVos called her conversation “very sobering and inspiring.”

“I give a lot of credit to students here who have found their voices and I encourage them to continue to speak out about finding those solutions,” she said.

But on social media, some Stoneman Douglas students didn’t exactly sound thrilled that the secretary had stopped by. They complained that she met with a very small group of students, not the entire school community, and didn’t spend much time at Parkland.

The Eagle Eye, Stoneman Douglas’ school newspaper, quoted a student expressing disapointment that DeVos didn’t offer solutions to prevent similar massacres in the future.

Others, though, defended the secretary.

DeVos’ visit was designed to lend support to the community during a difficult time, but also to minimize disruption on students’ first full day back at school, said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for DeVos. Student journalists covered DeVos’ visit, and the secretary said she’d like to sit down with them and other students from Stoneman Douglas in the near future for a more in depth conversation, Hill added.

The secretary and her team have awarded an initial $1 million grant to Broward County Public Schools, the district that’s home to Stoneman Douglas. The money was made available through the Project School Emergency Response to Violence, or SERV, which helps communities recover from significant, traumatic events.

Photo: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at a news conference on March 7, in Coral Springs, Fla., following a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

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Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer contributed to this article.