Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons photo
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons photo)

WASHINGTON — A commission established by President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., issued its final recommendations to improve school safety Tuesday, including arming teachers as one of 93 “best practices and policy recommendations.”

The controversial proposal that Trump himself suggested months ago drew criticism from Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, who complained that the 177-page report offered little in the way of serious recommendations to protect children from gun violence.

Trump established the Federal Commission on School Safety after the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to study and recommend ways to make schools more secure. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who headed the commission, said there is no single solution to making schools safe, so the report “provides a wide-ranging menu of best practices and resources that all state, community, and school leaders should consider while developing school safety plans and procedures that will work for their students and teachers.”

Among the key proposals in the report, DeVos said:

• It encourages better access to mental health services so people can receive the treatment they need. 

• Endorses states’ adoption of extreme risk protection orders, which temporarily restrict access to firearms by individuals found to be a danger to themselves or others.

• Calls on journalists to “be more responsible in their coverage of school shootings” by focusing on the facts and victims without mentioning the names or publishing photographs of the perpetrators.

• Urges schools, districts, and states to seriously consider the option of partnering with local law enforcement in the training and arming of school personnel, as well as consider ways to encourage more veterans and retired law enforcement officers to pursue careers in education.

Murphy was particularly enraged that the report includes a recommendation to arm teachers in response to the school shooting in Parkland.

“Teachers don’t want this. Parents don’t want this. Only Betsy DeVos, President Trump, and the gun industry think the best way to stop a school shooting is to load schools up with guns. Arming teachers and rolling back school discipline reforms won’t make our kids any safer. It’s nonsensical and dangerous,” Murphy said.

Rather than use taxpayer funds to purchase weapons for teachers, Murphy said schools should be given resources to support teachers and provide meaningful help to struggling students. He also said that federal gun laws need to be tightened to ensure that a “weapon of war” cannot be carried into a school.

Murphy supports a prohibition on assault-style weapons, stricter limits on how many bullets can be loaded in a magazine or clip, and stricter background checks for gun purchases.

Blumenthal called the report a “low grade scam” that offers no meaningful gun violence reform measures but instead recommends arming school personnel and rescinding Obama-era civil rights guidance as ways to improve school safety.

“While student survivors of gun violence were marching in the streets to call for change, Secretary DeVos and the Trump Administration closed their ears and produced a report that focuses on anything but meaningful reform,” he said. “Civil rights guidelines that protect children of color from discrimination don’t cause school shootings. Guns do. Forcing educators to carry firearms won’t save lives. Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people will.”

The report did call for expanding extreme risk protection orders such as the “red flag” law in Connecticut. Blumenthal has proposed legislation with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for a federal law that has yet to pass Congress. Blumenthal said that with the Trump administration supporting the proposal, there should be no impediment to getting a law on the federal books.

Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, added that the report caters to the National Rifle Association and its opposition to any restrictions on guns.

“The long-awaited Trump Administration School Safety Commission Report does the bidding of the NRA and scapegoats civil rights protections as a cause of mass shootings,” she said on Twitter.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said the report failed to deliver on President Trump’s pledge to survivors of the Parkland shooting that he would take action to reduce gun violence in schools.

“Instead, his commission — chaired by Secretary DeVos — sidesteps the issue of guns, fails to advance real solutions to keep our students safe, blames the media, and serves as a Trojan horse for rollbacks that would hurt students,” she said.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said that improving mental health is an “urgent challenge” and a priority for the Trump administration.

“We know that rates of mental illness continue to be of great concern, and the Commission’s findings show an urgent need to identify youth at risk for mental illness and connect them with needed treatment and services. Making these connections to treatment within schools can be an important step toward improved mental health for our children and increased safety in our schools,” he said.