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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

DeVos says safety panel won't look at the role of guns in school violence

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before Congress about Federal Commission on School Safety

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says the federal commission on school safety created after February's shooting rampage at a Florida high school won’t be looking at the role of guns in school violence.

The Associated Press reports that DeVos was asked during a congressional hearing Tuesday whether the commission, which she is chairing, will look at guns in the context of school safety.

“That is not part of the commission’s charge per se,” DeVos said. “We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, responded: “So you are studying gun violence, but not considering the role of guns.”

At the same time, a fact sheet posted on the White House website says the commission will study “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases,” among other topics.

Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, says the commission will look at all the issues the president asked it to study. She added, however, “It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws—that is the Congress’ job.”

President Donald Trump appointed DeVos to chair the commission following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen people were killed.

DeVos has faced criticism for not including any Democrats or educators on the commission. As part of the panel’s work, DeVos last week visited an elementary school in Maryland that has moved away from strict discipline policies in favor of softer approaches to foster a positive school climate. Some educators noted that the method has been widely used across the nation for many years.

DeVos also was grilled on the issue of undocumented students and whether principals or teachers can call immigration authorities on such students.

DeVos cited a 1982 decision by the Supreme Court that ruled that students are entitled to public education regardless of their status.

“I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn and I maintain that,” DeVos said.

“I think a school is a sacrosanct place for students to be able to learn and they should be protected there,” DeVos said.

Pressed further on whether a principal can call immigration authorities, DeVos replied.

“I don’t think they can.”

The audience gasped with relief.

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