Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the federal school safety commission formed by President Trump following the Florida school massacre that left 14 students and three adults dead will not study the role of guns in school violence.
Trump formed the Federal Commission on School Safety and appointed DeVos its chairwoman about a month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. At least 31 students and school staff members have been slain this year in school shootings, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), in a hearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, asked DeVos about the safety commission, including its scope. In one of several acrimonious exchanges DeVos had with senators, Leahy pressed the education secretary to say whether the commission would be studying guns.
“Will your commission look at the role of firearms as it relates to gun violence in the schools?” Leahy asked.
“That is not part of the commission’s charge, per se,” DeVos replied.
“I see. So you’re studying gun violence and not considering the role of guns,” Leahy said.
“We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure the students are safe at school,” DeVos said.
But DeVos’s answer contradicts the White House, which directed the commission to study and develop recommendations for “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases,” according to the announcement about the creation of the panel.
Elizabeth Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, said that remains part of the commission’s charge.
“The secretary and the commission continue to look at all issues the president asked the committee to study and are focused on making recommendations that the agencies, states and local communities can implement,” Hill said. “It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress’s job.”
When asked about the apparent contradiction between her statement and what DeVos said during her Senate testimony, Hill did not respond.
In the wake of the shooting in Florida, survivors launched a nationwide student movement to demand gun control, staging school walkouts and organizing a massive march in Washington, calling it the March for Life. Some members of Congress credited the student movement with helping them pass a spending bill that allocated $50 million for school security improvements and money to bolster the background check system used to screen potential gun buyers.
The spending bill also lifted a provision that barred the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence. But the students did not succeed in getting stricter gun restrictions passed, although their efforts continue.
DeVos’s commission has never met, but she has hosted listening sessions at Education Department headquarters and last week visited a Maryland elementary school that employs a strategy that teaches students interpersonal skills and encourages them to connect with one another. Gun restrictions were not discussed during the session, which lasted nearly five hours.
The Education Department is set to host a forum Thursday, allowing members of the public to share their suggestions on reducing school violence with the commission. DeVos, who is traveling to Switzerland to learn about Swiss-style apprenticeships, will not be in attendance.