US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during the fifth meeting of the Federal Commission on School Safety, focusing on the best practices for school...
Saul Loeb

Trump’s school-safety commission, led by DeVos, comes up far short


In February, following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., there was a widely held belief that Donald Trump and his administration should do more than just offer “thoughts and prayers.” The president announced he was taking action – by asking Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to oversee a commission to “study and make recommendations” on school safety.

Three months later, following the mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Tex., the White House said Trump had “activated” the commission “to start that conversation up again.” The implication was that the panel hadn’t done much work in the interim.

But as 2018 comes to a close, the DeVos-led commission is apparently wrapping up its work and sharing its suggestions. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

A school safety commission created by President Donald Trump in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Florida, has recommended that an Obama-era policy to reduce racial disparities in school discipline be rescinded, according to a report released by the panel on Tuesday.

The Federal Commission on School Safety said that it was “deeply troubled” by the Obama administration’s 2014 guidance, which warned schools that they could be violating federal law if their discipline policies targeted minority students at higher rates.

Oh. So, in response to deadly massacres in American schools, Trump’s commission on school safety turned its focus toward easing restrictions of racial disparities in school discipline.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who’ll soon chair the U.S. House committee that deals with education, responded, “The report makes no recommendations to address the common denominator in school tragedies – easy access to assault-style firearms designed for the battlefield. Rather than confronting the role of guns in gun violence, the Trump administration blames school shootings on civil rights enforcement.”

This has the added benefit of being true.

Remember, as NBC News reported in June, the Department of Education’s website says the commission was charged with coming up with a range of recommendations to improve school safety, including a “discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases.”

And yet, when Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) asked whether the panel would “look at the role of firearms as it relates to gun violence in our schools,” the Republican cabinet secretary replied, “That is not part of the commission’s charge, per se.”

If that made it sound as if Trump responded to deadly gun violence in schools by creating a commission that ignored guns, it’s because that’s what happened.

In fairness, I should emphasize that DeVos’ panel didn’t ignore guns completely. The commission recommended, for example, that states not bother to raise the minimum age required for gun purchases – a step even Florida Republicans endorsed after the bloodshed in Parkland.

As the Washington Post  reported, the Trump administration’s panel also suggested that school systems “consider arming and training teachers or other personnel to prevent, recognize and respond to threats of violence. That could include school resource officers, who are typically law enforcement officers, and school personnel, which could include administrators and teachers.”

If you were hoping to see the commission produce useful recommendations intended to make a real difference, I have some bad news for you.