The Trump administration is withholding records detailing how it has unlawfully permitted the use of federal funds to arm teachers with guns in classrooms across America, according to a lawsuit the SPLC filed today.
Despite the risk that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ decision will pose to the safety of young children, the Trump administration has refused to fully disclose details about which school districts are seeking to arm teachers, and what role the gun lobby played in the department’s thinking.
“Success in school comes from high-quality educators and dedicated support services,” said Zoe Savitsky, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Allowing funds intended to make schools healthy and safe for all children to be used to arm teachers places the interests of the corporate gun lobby above making schools truly welcoming and inclusive environments. Secretary DeVos has once again shown her blatant disregard for her role in protecting all of the nation’s schoolchildren.”
The suit comes after public reports first revealed that the administration would not stop school districts from arming teachers using federal funds. The Department of Education publicly cited requests from states, including Oklahoma, as the reason to arm teachers, but refused to provide real information concerning which states or school districts made the request. Arming educators is an issue the gun lobby has pushed for years.
In an attempt to deflect blame following bipartisan backlash, DeVos hid behind Congress, incorrectly claiming that school districts have the flexibility to use federal Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants to arm teachers. The use of these federal grant funds to purchase firearms and firearms training for teachers and other school staff is unlawful, according to the lawsuit.
Instead of being transparent with American families, the Department of Education continues to hide information, making the lawsuit necessary, the SPLC and its partners in the suit said.
The groups are suing on two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking records. The first of these was filed on Aug. 27, and sought records discussing or revealing the role the gun lobby played in the administration’s decision.
The second FOIA request was filed on Sept. 11, seeking details about which school districts are attempting to arm teachers with guns using federal funds. As of today, the Trump administration has not complied with its statutory obligations, the groups said.
The SPLC filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in conjunction with Democracy Forward, a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes executive branch activity, the American Federation of Teachers and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Turning teachers into armed guards is both reckless and insulting to the millions of American children and parents who want to see their schools become more safe – not less,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center.
“Betsy DeVos and President Trump's Department of Education appear content to ignore the overwhelming opposition, from law enforcement and teachers, to putting guns in classrooms,” Skaggs said. “How the administration decided to pursue this ill-advised course of action remains a mystery because they are stonewalling our request for information, but this lawsuit will force Secretary DeVos to be forthright with the American people and explain just how the department came up with this plan.”