WASHINGTON (AP) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday said the federal commission on school safety set up after a Florida high school shooting won’t be looking at the role of guns in school violence.
DeVos was asked during a congressional hearing whether the panel, which she is chairing, will look at guns in the context of school safety.
“That is not part of the commission’s charge per se,” DeVos told a Senate subcommittee overseeing education spending. “We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, who asked the question, quipped.
“So you are studying gun violence, but not considering the role of guns.”
At the same time, a fact sheet posted on the White House website says the commission will study “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases,” among other topics.
Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education told the AP in a statement that the commission will look at all the issues the president asked it to study. She added, however, “It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws—that is the Congress’ job.”
DeVos is chairing the panel that President Donald Trump created following the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people were killed.
DeVos has faced criticism for not including any Democrats or educators on the committee. As part of the panel’s work, DeVos last week visited an elementary school in Maryland that has moved away from strict discipline policies in favor of softer approaches to foster a positive school climate. Some educators noted that the method has been widely used across the country for many years.
DeVos was also grilled on the issue of undocumented students and whether principals or teachers can call immigration authorities on such students.
DeVos cited the 1982 decision by the Supreme Court that ruled that students are entitled to public education regardless of their status.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn and I maintain that,” DeVos said.
“I think a school is a sacrosanct place for students to be able to learn and they should be protected there,” DeVos said.
Pressed further on whether a principal can call immigration authorities, DeVos replied.
“I don’t think they can.”
The audience gasped with relief.