Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students from Parkland, Florida, will be in the nation’s capital this weekend for the March For Our Lives, but Betsy DeVos is not sure if she will have the time to see any of them.
During the secretary of education’s disastrous appearance Tuesday before a House subcommittee, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, asked if she would be willing to meet students from the high school that lost 17 students and teachers in a shooting just five weeks ago. Pocan noted that the students would be in town Friday.
DeVos would not commit to meeting with the students.
“I don’t know,” DeVos said. “I can’t say right now what my schedule is.”
There were a lot of things DeVos could not say during the hearing and a lot of things she probably wishes she would not have said.
When Pocan noted there had been 85 school shootings since DeVos became secretary of education and that earlier in the day two more students had been shot at a Maryland school, DeVos replied with one word: “Interesting.”
Questions about her stance on gun issues and how to deal with school shootings were a major subject during the hearing since President Trump appointed DeVos to head a School Safety Commission.
Democratic committee members were shocked to discover that when the commission meets its members will not include any school administrators, teachers, students, or parents.
Another group that won’t play a role in determining a plan for dealing with gun violence in our nation’s schools will be Democrats.
The committee DeVos described included only four people — all Republican members of the Trump cabinet — DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The panel does not appear likely to be examining any answers to the school shooting problem that include assault weapon bans or anything to do with guns — except possibly arming more teachers.
Referring to DeVos’ notorious answer from her 2017 Senate confirmation hearing, Pocan asked the education secretary if she still favored guns for teachers to deal with “potential grizzlies.”
DeVos said she wished she had provided a different answer to that question last year. She did not take a stance on arming teachers but noted that it had already been done in some states. She readily agreed with Pocan that there was no “potential grizzly” problem facing our nation’s schools.
The only gun-related idea DeVos said would be considered was a proposal mentioned by Trump just after the Parkland shootings to raise the age for buying rifles from 18 to 21, according to the Hill. DeVos did not reveal how she felt about the idea. Trump has backed off the proposal since meeting with National Rifle Association officials.
Other ideas the panel will examine include strengthening background checks and looking at mental health.
A congressman asked DeVos if it would help to be able to have more school counselors to help deal with students facing problems. When DeVos said it would, it was noted that the budget she was recommending for the Education Department eliminated money for school counseling services.
The idea of not having anyone from our nation’s schools on the School Safety Commission did not sit well with many educators.
On her blog, best-selling author and former Education Department official during the George H.W. Bush Administration Diane Ravitch strongly criticized the commission, noting that cabinet secretaries are usually surrounded by people who tell them what they want to hear and they have little time for this kind of undertaking.
“This is a farce. Chances are that the report has already been drafted by an NRA member on Betsy’s staff.”
After DeVos’ testimony, Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill attempted to refute the idea that the voices of those who work at or attend our schools will not be heard, saying in Politico that statements the panel receives from students, parents, and teachers “will be critical.”
DeVos told the subcommittee she was uncertain when the School Safety Commission would meet.
One thing is clear: If Betsy DeVos’ spokeswoman was accurate and the commission does want input from those who face the fear of gun violence in our schools every day, a good place to start would be by meeting with the students from Parkland High School Friday.
Hopefully, Secretary DeVos can fit it into her busy schedule.