Members of the Trump administration are visiting a school in Arkansas on Wednesday where at least two school administrators are trained to use and carry guns on campus, according to Arkansas outlet The Sentinel-Record. The visit is part of the administration’s monthslong effort to learn more about ways of keeping schools safe in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Secretary of Education Mick Zais will be visiting Lake Hamilton High School. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was initially scheduled to attend as well but canceled, according to the Sentinel-Record.
Sessions is making the stop as part of the Federal Commission on School Safety, which was created in March and is chaired by DeVos. The commission is tasked with making recommendations for school violence prevention. Throughout the spring and summer, members have visited schools and met with education stakeholders for input.
Lake Hamilton School District has an unusual approach to school safety. For decades the school has trained a few select school administrators as security and kept guns on campus for them to use in case of an emergency, according to an Associated Press article from 2013. The practice got the district in legal trouble in 2013, with state leaders saying Lake Hamilton and school districts were misinterpreting state rules that banned guns on school campuses except for private security companies. The law eventually changed and Lake Hamilton continued the practice.
Today, two of the school’s administrators have access to the firearms, which are kept in a secret location, Lake Hamilton Superintendent Steve Anderson told The Sentinel-Record. In addition, the district employs two armed officers.
“Right now we have a mechanism in place that has worked and has worked under your guidelines for 20 years without any problem,” Anderson said in 2013, per the AP.
School district officials declined to comment or provide further details to HuffPost on the school’s safety plan prior to the visit.
The visit comes amid questions over how the commission will address the role of guns in school shootings. While a March announcement from the Trump administration said the commission will look at and make recommendations regarding “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases,” months later, DeVos told a Senate subcommittee that the commission will not look at the role firearms play in school shootings.
Previously, Trump has suggested schools should arm teachers. The idea has been widely panned by education advocates, including school law enforcement officers.
Other groups have emphasized the importance of focusing on counseling and mental health support for students.
Instead of acting as school security guards, “educators should educate,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at The School Superintendents Association.
The group will “always defer to state and local education leaders making the decision right for their district,” Ng says, but it does not support the idea of arming teachers, especially if it is prioritized over investments in social-emotional supports.
Local activists plan to protest Sessions’ visit to the school. Ashley Hurst of Arkansas, who organized the protest, said she is concerned the state’s local school safety commission has not focused on gun control and she is worried they will recommend the arming of teachers.
“You start to lose the battle when you put guns in schools,” Hurst said.
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