For many students, safety is the ability to seek help and support when you need it. But, once again, the Trump Administration and Betsy DeVos are demonstrating their commitment to pursuing the exact opposite. Yesterday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was interviewed by 60 Minutes on CBS and proved (yet again) that she has no business being Secretary of Education. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch it right now. Reportedly, White House officials were “alarmed” at her performance, and rightly so. In a span of 14 minutes, she couldn’t answer basic questions about her own policies, said she didn’t know if there were more students being sexually assaulted or falsely accused, refused to acknowledge discrimination in school discipline, and had nothing to say about her “school choice” policies tanking the Michigan school system. So yes, alarming indeed.
Worst yet, she unveiled a new set of White House proposals for school safety, which includes the creation of a “Federal Commission on School Safety”. This taskforce, which will be chaired by Secretary DeVos, will generate a series of recommendations to enhance school safety and includes a plan to increase police presence in schools and arm teachers with guns. Let’s break down why this is wrong, shall we?
First and foremost: police make schools more dangerous for girls of color. We said it last week and we’ll continue to say it until the Department of Education listens. School police frequently accelerate the school-to-prison pipeline and have been known to harass and assault students of color, often with impunity. Black girls in school are being arrested and referred to police at record rates, despite the lack of evidence they commit more serious offenses than their white peers. And even though Secretary DeVos refuses to acknowledge the reality of discrimination in school discipline that doesn’t change the fact that girls of color are already seen as threats in the classroom without good reason. Add more cops and guns to that equation and we’ll see more arrests and, possibly, more violence against students.
These proposals are only the latest additions to DeVos’s terrible record on student rights and student safety. This is the woman who visited Stoneman Douglas High School, refused to take student questions, and avoided all queries about gun control. Of course she’s pushing a definition of safety framed around her own experience, which differs sharply from that of the students who would be harmed by her proposed policies. As a rich, white woman, her definition of safety includes reliance on the police. Increasing police presence and adding more guns to schools don’t make America safe or great; these efforts just criminalize communities of color and create more barriers to equal opportunity. Infusing this philosophy into our school system would be a huge mistake. For many students, particularly girls of color, safety is a counselor’s office. Safety is a well-funded school with support systems and resources. Safety is not being punished for trauma and having a place to go when you need help. Safety is not being kicked out of the classroom or tackled by police because of biased assumptions made about you. Safety is the right to learn free from sexual harassment and assault, and knowing your school will respect that right. Safety is knowing the Department of Education will enforce and protect your right to be treated equally in the classroom. Ultimately, safety for girls of color is support and freedom from discrimination. Not more guns in the classroom. DeVos should be creating policies that respond to what these students need to feel safe.