The school safety commission that was set up by Team Trump after a deadly Florida school shooting will not explore the role guns play in school violence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Tuesday.
DeVos’ disclosure came in a testimony to a Senate subcommittee amid criticism by Democrats and some educators that the panel, set up by President Trump in March, was focused more on distracting public attention rather than addressing gun violence.
During a hearing on education spending, DeVos was asked whether the commission that she chairs on school safety would look at guns.
“That is not part of the commission’s charge per se,” DeVos told a Senate subcommittee.
“We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, who asked the question, quipped, “So you are studying gun violence, but not considering the role of guns.”
DeVos’ spokeswoman Liz Hill later clarified in a statement that the commission would look at all the issues the president asked it to study.
She added, however, “It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws, that is the Congress’ job.”
The commission will also not be looking at best practices of foreign nations that have much lower rates of gun violence, DeVos said.
Instead, she cited her recent visit to a Maryland elementary school that has moved away from strict discipline practices in favour of softer approaches in creating a positive school climate.
Some educators have noted that the method has been widely used across the country for many years and is not new.
DeVos also skirted Leahy’s question on whether she believed an 18-year-old high school student should be able to purchase an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which has been used in many mass shootings in the US in recent years.
“I believe that’s very much a matter for debate,” she said.
DeVos has said the commission aims to produce a report on best practices by the end of the year, but other than that the department has disclosed little information about the panel.
She said Tuesday the panel will examine 27 different issues around school safety but did not elaborate.
Trump created the panel created following the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.
Trump at the time accused lawmakers of being afraid of the NRA, and floated the idea of lowering the age limit at which people could buy certain guns and tightening background checks.
But the administration has proposed no changes since then.