Department of Education considers armed teachers, Title IX reforms
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Schools are back in session, and we all know what this means. Time to sharpen those pencils, set that alarm clock, and pack your bulletproof backpack up with everything you’ll need, right?
Wait! Did you say bulletproof backpack?
Earlier this year, after the tragic Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, there was widespread debate immediately on the almost desperate school security situation.
Schools perform under mounting pressure to both protect students and staff while also building learning climates that are not ruled by fear. This is not an easy task.
The debate about practice emergency drills, bulletproof gear, and campus security infrastructure has inevitably led us down the path of discussing guns on campuses.
Just as this school year is beginning, there’s talk of arming teachers as a solution to the problems of campus violence.
In fact, Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos weighed in on the issue a few weeks ago. DeVos, who heads a federal commission on school safety, has not absolutely committed to the idea of using federal funds to train and arm school teachers.
But the idea has been floating around since President Trump crafted his response to the deadly Parkland shooting. Also, the Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education has stated that the idea of arming teachers is a "personal choice" that school districts are empowered to use.
DeVos’ own comments on the topic prove inconclusive. She has firmly stated she does not have congressional authorization to direct schools to arm teachers.
On the other hand, she encourages local flexibility, stating: "I will not take any action that would expand or restrict the responsibilities and flexibilities granted to state and local education agencies by Congress."
The DOE is definitely sending mixed messages about the idea of arming teachers. On the one hand, it says that it cannot officially endorse the idea, but also states local districts can use available resources to manage campus safety issues.
Among these resources is 20 percent of the $1 billion Every Student Succeeds budget set aside for school safety spending through Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants.
While DeVos could take a firm stance against the idea of arming teachers — focusing, for example, on the idea that arming teachers "recklessly endangers" students and staff — she pitches it to the states.
This wavering and lack of clarity reveals there is no guiding federal vision about armed teachers, creating a policy vacuum that can be filled by states seeking to arm school staff.
School safety advocates, including Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has vehemently opposed the idea of using federal money to arm teachers.
Unfortunately, we have not seen the end to this issue. Teacher and staff unions will keep the issue alive, because guns in classrooms is a radical shift in classroom climates. Not to mention the bureaucratic red tape accompanying this security strategy could be a huge logistical challenge.
We also see DOE news about another important matter — sexual harassment on college campuses — because of reported amendments to Title IX law that ensure gender equality in college funding and programs.
One main change may be in materials used to train investigators and adjudicators to make them more "impartial and free of sexual stereotypes." As of now, campuses keep training materials private, leaving accountability unclear when a case is heard.
This is a contentious issue, since sexual harassment awareness hit the mainstream last year with Hollywood’s allegation scandals and the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and rape. How people make and investigate allegations is at issue here, and the outcome of this debate in the DOE and academia could have ripple effects in Hollywood and even common workplaces.
Another school year, another set of tough issues for school officials and staff, from kindergarten to graduate schools, tasked with ensuring safe learning environments for students of all ages.
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