OPINION: Tell Secretary DeVos, no guns in N.Y. classrooms; not now, not ever
If they haven’t already, many public-school teachers will be spending next weekend at Staples, Target or Walmart stocking up on classroom supplies that their schools can no longer afford to provide.
At the same time, there are reports that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering a loophole that would allow school districts to pay for firearms and firearm training through a grant program in the federal law governing K–12 policy known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
This is an obscene misuse of well-intended and badly needed federal funding. Proponents of using the $1 billion in federal funds to put guns in classrooms say the ESSA Act makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases, and that omission could allow DeVos to use her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding through legislative action.
There is no suggestion, as far we know, that states or school districts would be required to arm teachers. However, if the incredibly inept DeVos and her team decide to allow ESSA funds to be used for this purpose, that money will be taken from funds that were intended to help students learn.
According to the New York Times, sources familiar with the Department’s thinking say the Education Department has determined that the gun purchases could fall under improving school conditions.
The Education Department did a cagey two-step when asked about using federal funding to buy guns. “The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. “The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio have been adamant in their opposition to arming teachers in the public schools. The teachers and their union and the NYPD are opposed to any arming of teachers in the classroom. The majority of Congress is also opposed. That’s why the gun advocates had to find a loophole to get in the door.
What’s wrong with allowing trained teachers to carry a concealed weapon? First of all, consider the number of times that highly trained police officers across the country were involved in questionable shootings in the past year, including the times when an officer was certain a suspect had or was reaching for a weapon.
Then consider the teacher with a room full of frightened children. The teacher’s first priority is protecting the children. Discharging a weapon raises the real possibility of a bullet striking a child or a teacher in an adjoining classroom or in the hallway.
NYPD officers get the best possible active-shooter training from the FBI in a realistic setting on Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx. They wear bullet-proof vests, and in this training they often make a bad decision and mistake a mock innocent for a mock shooter.
In February, following the shooting of 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., President Donald Trump suggested paying a bonus to teachers who carry a weapon. “You give them a little bit of a bonus, so practically for free, you have now made the school into a hardened target,” he said. He estimated that as many as 40 percent of school employees would be qualified to handle a weapon.
The loophole fits his strategy of arming school personnel, a strategy that is opposed by education and public safety experts. He believes that making the school a “hardened target” will discourage shooters. There is no evidence that this is true. This implies a rational thought process behind an irrational act in which the shooter often is shot or commits suicide.
Is there a place for guns in our public schools? We are not opposed to posting an armed NYPD officer at the entry to public high schools and intermediate schools, especially in the most violent neighborhoods. Nor are we opposed to asking students at these schools to pass through a metal detector.
But we are opposed to asking adults teaching kindergarten to carry a concealed weapon to protect against the remote possibility of an active shooter or to make their classroom and the children in it a “hardened target.” We are opposed to allowing gun advocates to do an end-run around important legislation.
Finally, we are concerned that a person like DeVos with no experience balancing a billion-dollar budget and no experience in public education was given responsibility for the future of our children.
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