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DeVos: On school safety, inaction is not an option

Posted at 6:18 PM, Mar 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-16 18:18:42-04

EDITOR’S NOTE: Betsy DeVos is the US secretary of education. The views expressed here are solely hers.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has horrified our nation, and rightfully so. Such violence has no place in America’s schools.

But like so many Americans, I have found hope in the strength and resolve of the students, teachers and families of Parkland, Florida. During my visit to the school earlier this month, they shared a common call: This must not be another tragedy where the response is all talk but no action.

They’re right.

Since the tragedy, President Donald Trump has convened students, parents, teachers, school leaders, mental health and law enforcement professionals who have been affected by violence to identify ways in which schools truly can be made safer. Too often, these discussions have devolved, with people retreating to the usual political corners and talking past each other. That makes no students safer. Even those who have disagreed in the past must now channel their energy into finding constructive solutions.

That is why the President has proposed real actions.

First, we all must acknowledge and address the growing alienation experienced by too many students who feel disconnected from adults and peers around them. Many educators and community leaders have developed innovative ways to foster the social and emotional well-being of their students — the administration will highlight these approaches and every community should expand them dramatically.

Second, existing mental health programs must be reformed and expanded, including those that help individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others. The President has proposed such changes for mental health programs as well as support for programs that utilize court-ordered treatment. In addition, the President has called on Congress to review statutory and regulatory privacy protections to determine if any changes or clarifications are needed to improve coordination between mental health and other health care professionals, school officials and law enforcement personnel.

Third, our background check system must be strengthened in tandem with implementing evidence-based violence prevention programs. The administration is encouraging every state to adopt Extreme Risk Protection Orders, which allow law enforcement and family members, with approval from a court, to remove firearms from individuals who are a demonstrated threat to themselves or others and to prevent those individuals temporarily from purchasing new firearms.

The President has called for strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System based on the legislative framework introduced by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, that will help improve the system’s accuracy and effectiveness.

Fourth, every community must look at how they can improve the security of our schools. This includes assisting states in training specially qualified school personnel to use firearms on a voluntary basis. Programs such as this currently exist in states including Florida, Texas and Ohio, allowing staff to go through highly specialized courses to be prepared to respond to an incident. Additionally, the administration will develop programs to support the recruitment of military veterans and retired law enforcement — folks who know how to respond to a dangerous situation — into new careers in education.

Finally, I will chair a Federal Commission on School Safety, which will provide additional recommendations on school violence prevention. There are best practices that are working today in communities across this country, and our commission will spotlight them and disseminate them to every school. This will not be another 18-month Washington commission that yields an unreadable and unactionable report.

There will be no one-size-fits-all approach for every state, or for every school. But the commission will work to determine the root causes of this kind of violence and will disseminate solutions that individual communities can confidently implement to effect real change.

Finding solutions to improve school safety will be difficult, but we can’t shy away from seeking answers just because they are hard. Inaction is not an option.

The parents I’ve spoken with, such as Andrew Pollack — the father of Florida shooting victim Meadow Pollack — know this. He told me he wanted to be the last father to have to put his child in the ground because of an event like this. Parents who lost their children at Columbine, Sandy Hook and in other school shootings share that commitment. They know this is not just about firearms. This is not about politics. This is about protecting our children.

The students have been clear in their demands and justified in their anger. Many across the country have stepped into roles too many adults have abdicated. But this administration will not abandon America’s children. We are working to uphold our promise to students to keep them safe in the present as they secure their future at school.