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There are many ways to make schools safer, arming teachers is the last thing we should do

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to take away money used for after-school programs and school counselors in order to arm our children’s teachers.

We’ve known DeVos has wanted to do many things that would hurt students—including cutting federal spending for public schools and undermining the rights of vulnerable students or those who have student loans—but this idea is one of the most reckless and dangerous ideas I’ve heard from her.

{mosads}Under the plan exposed by the New York Times, DeVos would divert funding that goes principally to vulnerable and poor kids through community schools, mental health programs, college and career counseling, after-school programs, and other services that help keep kids safe and help them learn. Instead, the plan would allow states to use that money to buy guns for educators. Regardless of where you fall on the debate on guns, everyone agrees we need more mental health services. Everyone agrees we need more counselors. But DeVos is trying to take them away from our kids.

We knew DeVos would try to do the bidding of the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers, but to even consider diverting resources used to support poor kids to flood schools with more guns is beyond the recklessness we believed she was willing to pursue. Put simply, it’s insane.

Does DeVos want a kindergarten teacher interacting with her students with a holstered gun on her hip? Would the teacher need to engage in gunfire instead of getting her students to a safe place? How could teachers ever receive enough training to engage in a shootout with someone who has a military weapon, especially in the chaos of students and other educators fleeing for safety? The more you think it through, the crazier the plan sounds.

Beyond the insanity of it, beyond the fact that arming teachers would make our children’s classrooms less safe, it’s also not what educators and students want. Educators, students and parents have made clear that they don’t want more guns in schools; teachers want to teach and students want to learn. They want their schools to be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses.

In her testimony before the Federal Commission on School Safety, Newtown, Conn., teacher Abbey Clements said, “I would like to make something perfectly clear: Had school employees been carrying guns at Sandy Hook School, it would not have made us or our students any safer.”

Equally astounding is that DeVos has no authority to use these funds for guns in schools. It is a complete overreach on her part. There is no intent to authorize this under the nation’s education law. In fact, when Congress appropriated funding for school safety programs in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., shootings, it expressly prohibited that funding from going toward arming teachers.

Instead of acting as a lobbyist for the NRA, DeVos should start acting in the interests of children, parents and the educators she has a duty to serve and protect as education secretary. If she is serious about keeping schools safe, she should be calling for more funding for counselors and mental health services, not proposing budgets that eliminate all these services or diverting this money to buy guns. She should be using her school safety commission to get at the root of gun violence, not going out of her way to avoid the issue even though gunfire kills or injures more than 7,000 children per year. She should be listening to what those who teach in, learn in and send their children to our nation’s public schools say they need to create safe and welcoming environments. And she should be looking at enacting policies like that proposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide educators and school staff with a way to raise a red flag if they think a student is a threat. There are so many ways we can address school safety—adding more guns to the situation is the last thing we need to do.

Teachers and students across the country are headed back to school. Right now, teachers are digging into their own pockets to purchase supplies for their classrooms and their students. In 25 states, funding for public schools is still less than it was before the recession. If Betsy DeVos wants to arm teachers, arm us with the resources we need to do our jobs and help kids learn.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Tags Betsy DeVos Guns School counselor school safety school shootings

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