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New School Safety Commission has no experience in promoting safety, lots of experience in protecting privilege and criminalizing communities of color

March 29, 2018

Last week, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announced that a new School Safety Commission has been formed.

The announcement from DeVos also stated, “The Commission has been charged with quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school.”

This new commission has been created, in light of the recent school shootings, but is not limited to just gun violence. If the goal is to keep students safe while attending school, then we can make some assessments based on who has been name to sit on this 4 member commission.

Betsy DeVos

Since Betsy DeVos was put in charge of creating this new Commission on School Safety, she has designated that she would be one of the four members of the commission. Her qualifications in this area are rather vague, plus she has inherited a system that in many ways is not committed to student safety.

For instance, since the 1990s, the Department of Justice funded the “Cops in Schools” program, costing taxpayers $750 million. One of the results of the Cops in Schools program, “has led to the a massive increase in the arrests of students that fundamentally undermines the educational mission of schools, turning them into an extension of the larger carceral state and feeding what has come to be called the school to prison pipeline,” according to Alex Vitale. (The End of Policing)

The presence of police in schools has also resulted in more suspensions and detention for students, especially students of color and student from families living in poverty.

This is a system that Betsy DeVos has inherited and she has given no indication that she we de-militarize schools, by removing police officers.

Secondly, Betsy DeVos worked to diminish Title IX policies, thus making it harder for students who have been sexually assaulted on campuses across the country, to get justice.

Third, Betsy DeVos has made no public statements against Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from coming into schools or waiting at school to arrest parents of students who are undocumented.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

First, according to a recent article on Buzzfeed

Sessions had earned top grades from the advocacy group over his two decades as a senator, and the director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, Chris Cox, boasted about Sessions’s record in an op-ed last January in USA Today. The firearm advocacy group announced in a press release at the time that it would spend at least $100,000 on commercials to boost him to the top post of the Justice Department.

Second, just after the school shooting in Florida in February, Sessions, while attending a Sheriff’s Convention in Washington, DC, made the following statement:

“I think effective enforcement of our gun laws, focusing on criminals and dangerous people, mentally ill people that have been — where we have the legal ability to do so — can reduce violence in our communities and improve public safety,” Sessions said. “It is not good if we got gun laws that say criminals can’t carry guns and they never get enforced. So we intend to enforce our laws.”

A Think Progress article responded to this statement by saying:

But there are a couple obvious problems with Sessions’ idea. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old allegedly responsible for using an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to murder 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, bought his military-caliber weapon legally. Cruz also had no criminal record. So it’s hard to see how stronger enforcement of existing gun laws could have prevented the carnage.

Third, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that he will begin deporting more undocumented immigrants. This will create more stress, anxiety and fear for students who have parents that are undocumented, since schools will be places that ICE agents will target while immigrant parents pick up their children.

Lastly, Jeff Sessions announced last year in a memo, that he is giving cops permission to continue and expand targeting blacks. This too creates more anxiety, stress and fear for black students if they or their families members will be targeted by law enforcement.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen

Nielsen is a longtime Homeland Security Department official who served as Kelly’s chief of staff when he was DHS secretary and accompanied him to the White House as his deputy. She also worked at the DHS during the George W. Bush administration and founded a consulting firm focused on risk and security management, according to a Washington Post story last year. 

After the Florida school shooting, the Department of Homeland Security announced they were drafting a guide to help schools and law enforcement create Targeted Violence Prevention Plans. 

“These plans outline procedures for schools on how to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams, establish central reporting mechanisms, identify student behaviors of concern, define the threshold for law enforcement intervention, and identify intervention and management strategies for decreasing the risk of a targeted attack,” a Homeland Security news release said.

This announcement doesn’t really sound like this effort will keep students safer, instead it will likely result in profiling students over “behavioral concerns.”

Lastly, upon taking office in December of 2017, Nielsen made it clear where she stands on immigration issues, when she stated:

“The president has made it clear that my number one priority as secretary of Homeland Security is to protect America from all threats,” Nielsen told the Washington Examiner on Friday. “As I discussed this week, making America safe starts with securing our borders, increasing interior immigration enforcement, protecting our communities, and dismantling transnational criminal organizations.”

Like her colleagues on the School Safety Commission, Nielsen is equally committed to rounding up undocumented immigrants, which will created a larger climate of fear for students of immigrant parents.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar

Azar comes to the Trump administration as the former president of the U.S. arm of Eli Lilly & Co. Eli Lilly has a history of spending millions of dollars to get candidates elected and to lobby for policies that would be financially beneficial to the pharmaceutical industry.

Azar has no real world experience around public safety issues, let along school safety. However, the head of Health & Human Services has said that he would support the CDC in conducting more extensive research into gun violence.

As you can see, it would be unreasonable for the public to have expectations that this new commission will actually make a difference in school safety. On the contrary, this commission will likely result in firming up the already systemically violent relationship to students, particularly black students and students from immigrant families.

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