Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce are calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to explain how the school safety commission that she chairs will study gun violence as part of its work.
In a letter on Friday, 17 Democratic members of the committee called on DeVos to explain how the commission will explore the role of guns, saying that "a conversation on school safety void of the discussion of guns ignores a significant root of the problem." The Democrats are led by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat from Delaware.
The letter came in response to DeVos' comments at a Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this week that the commission, which was set up after the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, would not focus on how guns contribute to school violence.
"The Commission was charged with recommending policies and funding proposals to prevent school violence," the letter said. "A core element of combating school violence is addressing gun violence, both in school and in our communities."
The lawmakers wrote that while the commission can't change gun laws itself, it "can study and develop 'meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school,' which may include policy recommendations to Congress or regulatory actions for other agencies."
DeVos said on Tuesday that the commission would not delve into the gun debate, a statement that seemed at odds with the White House announcement about the creation of the commission. That announcement directed the commission to, as part of its work, study and develop recommendations for "age restrictions for certain firearm purchases."
On Wednesday, the school safety panel held its first public forum at which students, parents and educators who spoke implored the commission to add more mental health resources and anti-violence programs to the nation's schools -- and not to ignore guns. DeVos did not attend the forum and was traveling in Switzerland at the time.
At that listening session, Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais said the commission would explore "narrow aspects of gun ownership."
"The commission will not be looking at ways to confiscate those weapons or abrogate the second amendment, but what we will be doing is looking at specific age limits for the purchase of specific kinds of weapons," Zais said Wednesday, adding that the commission would also look at how to confiscate weapons from people with mental health issues.