Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday to meet with survivors of last month’s mass shooting that led to the deaths of 17 students and teachers. But students said they were unimpressed with her visit.
After her visit to the school, DeVos held a news conference in Parkland and told reporters that there should be “very, very high standards” for arming school staff, according to Education Week. DeVos called her visit “very sobering and inspiring.” She also advocated for Congress to take “practical steps” toward school safety and pointed to a bill introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) as an example, the STOP School Violence Act, which would create a federal grant program to help schools assess threats — a measure that Democrats have deemed inadequate.
Many of the most vocal student activists who were at the scene of the school shooting did not appreciate DeVos’ visit.
Emma Gonzalez quote-tweeted news of DeVos’ visit with, “Good thing I was already planning on sleeping in tomorrow.” Carly Novell, an editor at the student newspaper, The Eagle Eye, tweeted that Miami Heat basketball player Dwayne Wade would make a better Secretary of Education. Wade visited Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday and said the students inspired him. He has dedicated his current season to Joaquin Oliver, one of the shooting victims who was buried in Wade’s jersey, and has written Oliver’s name on his shoe before games.
Before DeVos’ visit, Novell tweeted that students didn’t need people in power to feel sorry for them.
Students also said DeVos avoided their questions or barely answered them.
Over the past several weeks, students who survived the shooting have been outspoken about potential policy changes, appearing on national news programs, organizing marches and protests, and meeting with lawmakers about gun control. On Saturday, Parkland students met with Chicago high school students to talk about gun violence. At a CNN Town Hall event last month, Emma Gonzalez confronted National Rife Association spokesperson Dana Loesch about gun regulations. Gonzalez now has more Twitter followers than the NRA.
While the students have pushed for gun control, the Trump administration has resorted to popular talking points that fail to address the root cause of gun violence. DeVos’ support for policies aiming to arm school staff is a GOP and NRA favorite, despite evidence that such measures are ineffective. Just last week, a Georgia teacher was arrested after firing a gun in a classroom in which he barricaded himself. The Associated Press reported that, two years ago, the teacher had three guns taken away from him after he set his family’s car on fire. But the high school that employed him only learned about the incident last week.
Research suggests that arming teachers and other school staff is unlikely to stop a mass shooting. An FBI study analyzing 163 instances of mass shootings found only one was stopped by an armed person, compared to 21 shootings that were stopped by unarmed people.
Arming school staff may also lead to further victimization of Black students, since Black students are more likely to receive harsh discipline and are more likely to be arrested on school grounds. Black boys are viewed as less innocent than white peers and are also more likely to face police violence if they are accused of a crime. School resource officers already throw Black students on the ground in response to minor classroom disruptions and “non-compliance”, and some teachers resist eliminating zero tolerance discipline out of concern for their safety. If teachers are afraid of their Black students and have a weapon, it could easily result in violence, Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. wrote in Time.
“It does not take a great deal of imagination to contemplate instances in which armed teachers dealing with recalcitrant children will react out of fear and racial stereotype and discharge their weapons as they do the disciplinary code,” Ifill wrote.