Betsy DeVos sidesteps questions on arming schoolteachers

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Tuesday she recognizes school safety is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

By Catherine Kim, Medill News ServiceUPI

WASHINGTON — U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was grilled Tuesday about President Donald Trump‘s proposal to arm schoolteachers and how that might impact the discipline of minority students.

DeVos appeared before the House Appropriations Committee to review the Education Department’s proposed $63.2 billion budget for 2019. Committee members mainly focused on Trump’s proposals to reduce school shootings, mainly by training some teachers on how to use guns and then arming them on the job.

Rep. Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., said students of color are more likely to be disciplined than white students. Black students are almost four times more likely to be suspended than white students, according to a report from the DOE in 2016.

“I’m concerned about all students — students of color and all students,” DeVos said. “We want to ensure students have the opportunity to learn in safe environments.”

In a phone interview, Temple University Education Professor James Earl Davis said students of color have been “historically more subjected to discrimination, oppression and violence.”

“We know that they’re subjected to more disciplinary actions, and they’re also punished more severely in schools by teachers and other staffs,” he said. “And by arming teachers and other staffs it only puts them at more risk for violence.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., criticized DeVos for cutting $1 million from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which enforces laws that prohibit discrimination in education.

“Your head’s in the sand about racial bias and racial discrimination,” Lee said. “Madam Secretary, you just don’t care much about civil rights of black and brown children. This is horrible.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., asked DeVos if she would reconsider supporting Trump’s plan to use federal funds to train teachers on gun safety and then to arm them in schools if the majority of teachers and parents nationwide opposed it.

DeLauro cited a March 16 Gallup poll, which shows that 73 percent of teachers oppose teachers and staff carrying guns in schools.

“That is a matter for Congress to decide, not for the secretary of education to decide,” DeVos replied.

DeVos said she will investigate ways to protect students as head of a new school safety commission that Trump created. The commission consists of three other Cabinet members: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. DeVos said the number of members is limited so the commission isn’t bogged down in bureaucracy. The commission will invite experts and students for advice, DeVos said.

The commission will hold hearings in the next few weeks. DeVos said she recognizes school safety is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed immediately.