U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro is calling on educators, police officers, and student activists to help her stop U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from allowing federal money to be spent arming teachers.
DeLauro issued that call to action during a press conference at Wilbur Cross High School Monday urging people to contact members of Congress and ask that language be adopted in the final Fiscal 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding measure to make it clear that states can’t use federal funds to put firearms in teachers’ hands.
“There is zero good research on the efficacy of arming teachers as a solution to school shootings,” DeLauro said. “In fact, in June, when Secretary DeVos announced a federal commission on school safety she refused to examine the role of guns with regards to school shootings. How then can she claim that this is a solution?”
DeLauro said using federal education money to purchase guns for school staff and to train teachers to use them would be unprecedented. She said the funding in question is normally used by states to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, reading readiness and for mental health services.
But DeVos has signaled that she might allow state and local school officials to use funding provided by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, to purchase firearms and train school staff, specifically teachers, to use those weapons.
Members of Congress are calling on the Department of Education to issue formal guidance prohibiting equipping and training teachers with handguns. But DeVos has declined to issue such guidance.
“I think it’s outrageous that we would use taxpayer dollars for this dangerous plan,” DeLauro said.
New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Carol Birks said she learned a lot of things before entering her first classroom in 1996 but how to use a gun was not one of them. And though there have been a number of mass shootings since 1996, the basic preparation for teachers hasn’t changed.
“That we’re standing here today talking about arming a teacher with a gun rather than arming them to meet the needs of students ... is just unconscionable,” she said. She also noted that it sends a terrible message to students about whether the people who are responsible for helping them become productive members of society don’t trust and believe in them.
Birks said if the federal government wants to give school district like New Haven more money for social-emotional supports like school psychologists and social workers, to help with STEM and reading, she’ll take it. But schools in Connecticut don’t need money for armed teachers.
David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, pointed out that New Haven city and school officials have actively tried to reduce gun violence.
He noted that New Haven has a gun buy-back program, youth engagement programs, launched a program called Youth Stat to interrupt the cycle of gun violence among teens, and implemented the use of restorative practices. Cicarella said the school district had not lost one student to gun violence since Youth Stat started.
“We have trained professional security officers and SROs equipped to deal with such an unfortunate situation should it ever occur,” Birks said. “I would never want teachers put in a situation to defend themselves in that way.”
New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell echoed Birks’ sentiment suggesting that he wouldn’t want to put his officers in a position to have to distinguish armed teachers from a perpetrator in a school shooting. He said the police department has worked closely with other city officials and Birks on school safety in the last five to seven months. None of what they’ve considered involves arming teachers.
He predicted that school districts that go down the path of arming school staff will have tragic results partly because teachers will not have the 80 hours of training that people in the police academy in Connecticut receive on how to use a weapon and how to keep it in their possession.
“Who’s to say that a student wouldn’t disarm a teacher?” he said. “It’s just not a good idea.”
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut went on to pass some of the toughest gun reform laws in the country instead of arming teachers. And Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, said because of those actions the state now has some of the lowest gun death rates in the country.
“We proved what study after study has proven, that strong gun laws save lives and we did it without arming a single teacher,” he said. “Why did we decide not to arm a single teacher? Because we looked at actual facts and evidence to support that decision. Studies show that guns don’t make us safer. If that were true the U.S. would be the safest place on the planet because we own more guns, by far than any other country in the world.”
DeLauro said the members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation all are against arming teachers but she said DeVos has indicated that she believes it is up to Congress to specifically bar the use of federal education funding for such purposes and that current statute allows flexibility for states.
“We don’t preclude localities from doing what they want to do but these are federal funds,” DeLauro said. “If she doesn’t understand it, and I’ll be flip—sometimes she doesn’t understand it. If she doesn’t understand it, let us make it perfectly clear to Secretary DeVos, what she can and cannot do.
“She threw it in the hand of Congress,” DeLauro added, “well those of us who are elected officials are the Congress. Let’s stop it.”