The Trump administration’s federal commission on school safety, which established after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is facing criticism Wednesday for ignoring the role firearms play in the issue.
Alessia Modjarrad, a graduating Montgomery County, Maryland, high school senior and student activist, told the commission, which is holding its first public forum Wednesday at the Education Department, that efforts to address school safety by the Trump administration are “misguided and inefficient.”
“We, the students, experience the American school system every day. We used to sit in classrooms waiting for something to be done,” she said, adding that they will now use their voices instead. “I don’t want to be scared. I don’t want to think that, at any moment, someone with a gun could walk in and hurt us all.”
At the full-day listening session, the commission is seeking feedback on solutions to improve safety in the nation’s schools. The event, which is the first of several planned, comes one day after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a Senate subcommittee hearing that the federal commission would not focus on the role that guns played in school violence, comments that appeared to confound lawmakers.
On Tuesday, DeVos told Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who questioned her on the commission’s goal, that focusing on the role of guns was “not part of the commission’s charge, per se.”
Modjarrad called on DeVos and the commission to reconsider its “current complicit stance on the role of guns in school safety” and argued that it should be its most important focus.
“I would ask to please consider the possibilities that guns are the most important aspect of the purview of this commission,” she said.
This is the first opportunity for members of the public to provide input to the committee directly. The commission has held several closed-door meetings with select stakeholders, including survivors of school shootings. Last week, the commission held its first field hearing at a Maryland high school, which focused on positive behavioral intervention and supports.
DeVos, who chairs the commission, has said the goal is to spotlight successful techniques in use at schools and in communities across the country that can help make the nation’s schools safer. The commission is expected to make its recommendations by year’s end, DeVos has said. She is not in attendance at Wednesday’s forum, as she is traveling to Switzerland on a trip focused on apprenticeships.
So far though, that work has not included a focus on guns, despite the fact that when the White House announced the commission, one of the areas it listed as a focus was putting age restrictions on some firearm purchases.