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Will the Texas Shooting Prompt Action From Trump’s School Safety Commission?

By Alyson Klein — May 21, 2018 2 min read
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Earlier this year, shortly after 17 students and teachers were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., President Donald Trump created a school commission, led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to explore solutions.

And now that there has been another deadly school shooting, at Santa Fe High School in Texas, educators, parents, and others—including advocates in Washington and folks on social media—are wondering just what the commission has been up to since its inception in early March.

Besides DeVos, the commission includes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. It has had one organizational meeting, on March 28. By contrast, there have been seven school shootings since the one in Parkland, Fla., according to Education Week’s tracker.

Separately, DeVos met May 17 with experts and those personally affected by past school shootings. That meeting was not open to the public or press, but has been posted online here.

Several news outlets, including CNN, have reported that Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the commission was “activated” after the May 18 shooting in Texas and will meet early this week.

A White House spokesman referred questions on the forthcoming meeting to the U.S. Department of Education. A department spokeswoman was unable to provide further details Monday morning. (We will update this post when there is more to say.)

Advocates say the commission hasn’t been transparent about its work or done much to try get the perspective of rank-and-file educators. Eight groups, representing superintendents, state chiefs, school psychologists, social workers, and parents, sent a letter to the department last week outlining their concerns. (The letter was sent prior to the Texas school shooting.)

The Education Department said that two top officials—Mick Zais, the deputy secretary, and Kent Talbert, a senior aide—had a 45-minute conference call with the National PTA, one of the groups on the letter. (Jacki Ball, the director of government relations for the PTA, said there were no specific details provided on that call about when future meetings of the commission and/or listening sessions would be held.) And the Council of Chief State School Officers was told the department would be scheduling a meeting with them soon. Zais and Talbert have also met previously with state teachers of the year to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, DeVos is almost certain to face questions about the commission and its work when she testifies before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for the first time on Tuesday. Democrats will likely ask why educators haven’t been given more of a voice, and why the commission’s first and only meeting was closed to the public. They may also ask whether the commission is a stalling technique, allowing the Trump administration to side-step a divisive debate over gun safety before the congressional midterm elections.

And social media has been buzzing with comments about the school safety commission and what many perceive as a lack of action since its inception.

Tweets on school safety commission:

Photo credit: Alex Brandon for the Associated Press.

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