In-Depth: Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to make the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) better prepared to address increasing threats to school security:
“Nearly twenty years after the massacre at Columbine High School and following an uninterrupted string of school shootings nationwide, American schools remain vulnerable to mass shootings. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which left twenty children and six adults dead, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began directing action to improve school security. Unfortunately, no one has been directed to make sure DHS school security plans are effectively implemented. The CLASS Act will remedy that defect by establishing a council to coordinate the Department’s school security activities. Ensuring that America’s schools are safe from gun violence is a non-partisan objective. Every Member of Congress should be moved by the voices of young people speaking up to demand that their educational facilities be safe from gun violence. I welcome the Department of Homeland Security’s cooperation to make schools safer for everyone.”
This bill has two Democratic cosponsors
in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, it had one cosponsor, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS)
and didn’t receive a committee vote
Of Note: Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1996, school security measures have increased significantly. Today, nearly 100 percent of schools serving 12- to 18-year olds use at least one safety or security measure, including locked doors, security cameras, hallway supervision, controlled building access, metal detectors, and locker checks.
In 2017, the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice reported that “[t]hough there have been a number of high-profile school shootings in the U.S. over the past several years, homicides at schools are rare. Further, today’s students are less likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon (such as a gun, knife, or club) at school than 10 years ago.” Specifically, the National Institute of Justice noted:
- From 2003-2013, fewer students ages 12-18 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property (nine percent in 2003 versus seven percent in 2013);
- From 1993 to 2013, fewer students in grades 9-12 reported carrying a weapon on school property (12 percent in 1993 versus five percent in 2013), and over the same time period, fewer students reported carrying a weapon anywhere, including at school; and
- Since 1992, the percentage of youth homicides occurring at school has been under three percent of the total number of youth homicides.
The National Institute of Justice concluded that “school violence is not so much new as it is something that has gained attention in the past 20 years or so.” However, it also noted that “traumatic events at school are not rare,” when “traumatic events” are defined as shootings, natural disasters, fires, pandemics, homicides, suicides, or intense bullying.
DHS has already stepped up its efforts to prevent gun violence in schools in response to shootings in Parkland, FL and other places. It conducts training exercises and preparedness activities to increase schools’ safety. DHS Secretary Kirsten Nielsen says of these efforts:
“No child should have to worry about their safety when in school. [DHS’] top priority is to keep the American people safe, and we are closely examining ways to better protect our nation’s students and schools from gun violence. While state and local partners have primary responsibility for the physical security at schools, through trainings, best practices guides, workshops, and tabletop exercises, we hope to improve awareness and foster a culture of preparedness. We are working with partners around the country to harden these vulnerable targets. By ensuring administrators and stakeholders in the K-12 and higher education communities, teachers, parents, law enforcement, and first responders are part of this effort, we can better educate the entire community on threats to school safety. The public is often our greatest partner in identifying suspicious activity, and we are strengthening public awareness campaigns to encourage everyone—students, teachers, and their communities—to report suspicious school-related activity to local law enforcement.”
To help coordinate the Department’s wide range of activities, DHS has established a department-wide Executive Steering Committee to drive DHS school security efforts, support state and local efforts, and ensure DHS’ resources and expertise are best leveraged to protect schools against attack.
In March 2018, President Donald Trump appointed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to lead the Federal Commission on School Safety. This Commission was charged with providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school. It delivered its final report, outlining a holistic approach to improving school safety, to the president on December 18, 2018. The Commission’s members included: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Allkindza)