WASHINGTON – A federal panel convened after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will issue a series of best practices to make schools safer, including recommendations on arming teachers, a senior Education Department official told The Associated Press. Age restrictions on gun purchases also are being considered.
Frank Brogan, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, emphasized that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to school safety and that states and local jurisdictions have leeway to decide for themselves how to approach it.
Asked whether federal grants could be used to buy firearms for schools, Brogan told the AP on Thursday that states have “always had the flexibility” to use the funds as they deem necessary for their students.
Democrats and education groups have argued, however, that the funds are intended for academics, not guns.
An early draft of the commission's report recommends that states and communities determine “based on the unique circumstances of each school” whether to arm its security personnel and teachers to be able to respond to violence. The draft's section on training school personnel was reviewed by AP.
That approach, the draft says, “can be particularly helpful” in rural districts where the nearest police unit may be far away. Other recommendations included employing school resource officers and ensuring they worked closely with the rest of the school staff.
If a state does decide to equip schools with firearms, it will be able to use Title IV federal grants for their school needs. Brogan said the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan law that shifts education authority to states, provides about $1 billion in annual funding for various school needs, including 20 percent specifically set aside for school safety.
Brogan also clarified that the commission will tackle gun control as instructed by the White House. Brogan said the commission will consider age restrictions for gun purchases, as well as whether people with mental health problems who are likely to harm themselves and others can possess weapons.
Besides recommendations on arming and training school staff, the research and best practices identified by the panel will include suggestions on equipping schools with magnetometers and other safety tools, character development programs and the impact of video games and movies on violent behavior. The report will be issued in “very late fall or by the end of the year,” Brogan said.
The panel is chaired by DeVos and also consists of the heads of the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security. The body has conducted a number of listening sessions, school visits and meetings over the summer, but experts have been skeptical about what it may accomplish.
Martin West, an education professor at Harvard University, gave the current commission credit for “making a good-faith effort” to listen to suggestions from various groups but said its very design – the lack of critical voices and experts – undermines its credibility.
“That gives people who are skeptics another reason to ignore the commission's findings,” West said.