DeLauro: Federal education funds should not be used to arm teachers

DeLauro: Federal education funds should not be used to arm teachers
New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN — After Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced this month she had “no intention” of acting against states and municipalities that use federal education funding to equip teachers with firearms, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, said the time for Congress to act is now.

In a Monday press conference at Wilbur Cross High School — which was vacant for the Jewish holiday — DeLauro said Congress must act to include language in the Labor and Health and Human Services budget to prohibit use of federal education funds for purchasing firearms and firearms training for school staff.

“This is a pivotal moment on a critical issue,” DeLauro said.

President Donald Trump and DeVos have said schools may benefit from having armed teachers and should have that option, The Associated Press reported. DeVos has also said it is up to states “whether to spend federal money to buy firearms as officials struggle to find ways to prevent school shootings,” the Washington Post reported.

DeLauro said the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant Program within the $1 billion Every Student Succeeds Act education bill is intended to provide classrooms with social-emotional and academic supports, not to arm teachers. The administration of President Donald Trump seeks to “exploit” language within the grant program to add guns to schools, she said.

“All of us are here to denounce the Trump and DeVos plan to militarize our classrooms,” DeLauro said. “There is zero good research on the efficacy of arming teachers.”

DeLauro said grant money should be used “for books and for bandwidth, not for bullets or Berettas.”

She took aim at the gun lobby, saying there are “bigger steps” to be taken on gun violence and public safety, including banning all assault weapons, adding accountability measures for gun manufacturers when their guns are used for crimes and lifting the “de facto” ban on firearms research caused by the Dickey Amendment, which limits the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting some research.

Although New Haven teachers are not armed, the Board of Education recently voted to lay off several school counselors while hiring guards for its internal security team to work with school resource officers employed by the New Haven Police Department. Meanwhile, the district recently completed installing its Board of Education Security Alarm Fire Emergency Response system, which includes more than 3,000 surveillance cameras in the district’s schools, which can be accessed remotely by first responders.

“I have faith and confidence in law enforcement,” DeLauro said about the system. “We know we need to have a high sense of safety today.”

DeLauro said schools must find “where that balance lies” between keeping schools secure and directing resources to education instead of militarization and surveillance.

“We need to have social workers and guidance counselors in all of our schools instead of siphoning off precious resources,” she said. “No one wants to go to school in an armed fortress.”

New Haven Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks said that nothing in her teacher training program discussed taking up arms.

“To think we’d be standing here today to talk about arming a teacher (with) a gun instead of arming them with resources … is unconscionable,” she said.

She said there is a correlation between mental health issues and violence in schools, and she advocates for “a more adaptive fix.”

“It sends a terrible, strong message to our students about whether we trust them,” she said. “We want money to go to resources for teachers.”

Birks was backed up by Police Chief Anthony Campbell, who said the city’s police and education departments were close partners.

“There are better ways to ensure kids are safe,” he said. “Arming teachers would create another layer of difficulty from a law enforcement standpoint,” because officers in a high stress scenario would have to quickly identify whether an individual with a gun is a teacher defending the school, or a potential threat.

Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said the mass shooting in Newtown years ago made a massive impact on the state.
“We were never the same as a result,” he said.

Subsequently, the Connecticut legislature passed laws enhancing gun control measures; according to CDC data, Connecticut had the fifth-lowest rate of firearm deaths in the nation in 2016, with about one fewer death per 100,000 people than in 2005.

“Not one teacher was armed” by the state legislature following the events of Sandy Hook, Stein said. “We looked at actual facts and evidence.”

He argued that if arming more people were an effective safety precaution, America would be the safest country in the world. Arming teachers, he said, creates the risk for more stray bullets even in a legitimate crisis.
“Where will those stray bullets end up?” he said. “The ‘good guy with a gun’ is a false theory.”

Dave Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said the district’s focus on restorative practices have created a healthier school climate.

Sarah Locke

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