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DeVos tells Congress: No report on school safety till year's end

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on Tuesday in Washington. Credit: AP / Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday the school safety commission created after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting has held “listening sessions” with officials and parents but is still putting together its agenda and won’t report until year’s end.

Just days after the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, DeVos testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about the work of the commission, which President Donald Trump formed in March.

She indicated that the commission she leads with the attorney general and two cabinet secretaries remains in the early stages of its organization and work, but said it had begun to move forward.

“We are seeking input from students, parents, teachers, school safety personal, administrators, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, school counselors — anyone who is focused on identifying and elevating practical solutions,” DeVos said.

“We received updates from those who had been involved in commissions and reports from previous tragedies to find out we could be learned from them,” she said. “We had a meeting this last week, one of the first broader listening sessions. We also listened to parents who had a child killed in one of these terrible tragedies.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday after the Texas high school shooting that the commission had been “activated.”

“Going forward we will soon have a timeline to be published more broadly,” DeVos said. “The commission looks forward to delivering best practices and findings by year’s end.”

Noting that the report would not be available for another seven months as educators and families worried about more school violence, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) asked, “Will you please expedite the work of the commission?”

DeVos responded, “We are working very quickly.”

Trump named DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to the commission. It held one closed-door organizational session, on March 28.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the committee chairwoman, said that state and local school districts are struggling with how to address school safety, and parents and students are concerned and “even scared,” and looked forward to an update on the commission.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the top panel Democrat, pointed out that the Santa Fe High School massacre was the 16th school shooting this year, and said, “We must pass some gun safety legislation to stop the violence that continues to devastate our schools and communities.”

He told DeVos he appreciated her support for the idea that Congress should be holding hearings on solutions, but complained the Republican majority has not called any.

Later in the hearing, DeVos for the first time said schools and communities might not have to wait until December for some recommendation, telling Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) that “hopefully an interim report” would provide some solutions. But DeVos did not say when such a report would be issued.

As the commission works, DeVos said, “I’ve directed my department to do everything within the law to encourage those states and districts affected to take advantage of the flexibility of new Title IV funds.” Those funds help schools pay for programs to prevent violence and drug use.

DeVos did not discuss guns specifically, but said the commission’s recommendations will help schools and communities carry out their responsibility for the physical safety of their school buildings and facilities.

“The outcomes will be really raising up practices, ideas that have been implemented in communities across the country that may not be broadly known,” DeVos said.

The goal, she added, is to ensure “that schools and communities are knowledgeable of the resources available and have the tools to be able to make the right decisions for them to protect their own buildings and students.”

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