By Lauren Poteat, NNPA Washington Correspondent
After the unveil of explosive reports where U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, openly considered allowing schools to use federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) funding, to purchase firearms and provide firearm training to educators, members of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (TLC) have stepped in with an open letter to the same administrator—in protest.
Comprised of over 200 national organizations working together to promote and protect civil and human rights of all people, the open TLC letter was released on Sep. 17, demanding that “the department immediately publicly clarify, that ESSA funds could not be used for weapons.”
“On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights… we write to share our significant concern regarding the Department’s reported contemplation of the use of Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants provided to states under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for purchasing firearms and firearms training for school staff,” the letter stated.
Questioning the department’s intent, the letter further went on to the explore the risks of increased violence that this option could potentially cause.
“The Department’s consideration of this use for the funding is inconsistent with both congressional intent and evidence-based educational practices, working against ESSA’s purpose to ‘provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close achievement gaps.’ Having more firearms in schools would expose children and school staff to a greater risk of gun violence and make everyone in schools less safe,” the letter continued.
Since issuing these statements in late August, that were said to be sparked by requests from Texas and Oklahoma to tap into federal money to pay for “school marshals, Devos has ultimately left the decision to local districts to decide on how they would like to use the ESSA grant money.
In her letter to Congress, DeVos stated that she would not take “any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff,” however, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and a member of TLC, reflected that an ‘option’ such as this, should have never even been presented.
“This is whole idea is just lousy and makes no sense,” Morial said. “ESSA money should be used to by books and give disadvantaged youth a chance at better education. African Americans already face large amounts of gun violence outside of school, so to even propose such an idea is an added insult to injury.”
“School should be a safe haven for students and there is not one scant of evidence that shows children are safer around guns. The National Urban League does not want or support this,” Morial continued.
In agreeance with TLC’s belief that ESSA funding should not be used to support guns in school, last week the state of New York issued their own memo to school district leaders, stating that they would not allow schools to use federal or state money to buy guns.
“We simply cannot afford to use federal education dollars that are intended for teaching and learning to pay for weapons that will compromise our schools and communities,” New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia wrote.
In a report done by CNN, Black Americans (particularly males), were shown to be more likely to die and to be involved with gun violence over their White counterparts, a startling statistic that the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), an legal organization devoted to fighting for racial justice, fears might spill into the classroom, should states actively pursue such an option.
“We need the department of education to immediately and publicly clarify, that ESSA funds cannot be used for weapons,” Nicole Dooley, a LDF general counsel member said. “The only thing that this option will do is place more students at risk, especially African Americans, who experience implicit bias daily. The purpose of ESSA is to improve educational opportunities, not to create more dangerous practices.”