SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
President Trump also is setting up a commission on school safety. He's asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to lead it. It will look at everything from arming teachers to age restrictions on gun purchases to video game violence. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High has thrust the normally press-shy education secretary into the spotlight. She visited the school in Florida last week.
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BETSY DEVOS: I come committed on behalf of this administration to continuing to work to find solutions so that no student and no parent ever has to go through what this community has had to endure.
MCCAMMON: And we're joined now by NPR's education correspondent Anya Kamenetz with more about DeVos' positions on guns in schools. Hello, Anya.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: So up until now, what has been Betsy DeVos' position on school safety?
KAMENETZ: Well, a lot of people probably remember the moment during her confirmation hearing when Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, asked her about guns in schools. And Murphy is really identified with this issue because of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn.
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CHRIS MURPHY: One final question - do you think that guns have any place in or around schools?
DEVOS: I think that's best left to locales and states to decide. If the underlying question is...
MURPHY: You can't say that - you can't say definitively today that guns shouldn't be in schools.
DEVOS: Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyo. I think probably there - I would imagine that there's probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.
MURPHY: If President Trump...
MCCAMMON: So people really seized on that grizzly bear comment. They accused DeVos of being out of touch. And, you know, Anya, polls suggest she is President Trump's least popular Cabinet member. Remind us why DeVos draws so much criticism.
KAMENETZ: Well, since that confirmation hearing, critics have been pointing out that she seems really unprepared for her job on the spot. Of course she's never been an educator. At the same time, she's one of the wealthiest members of a very wealthy Cabinet. And during her philanthropic career, she's really pushed for private, religious and charter and for-profit schools even as her job puts her in charge, of course, of the nation's public schools. And then beyond her background, she's drawn ire for her rollbacks of Obama-era civil rights regulations, especially those protecting transgender students and victims of sexual assault.
MCCAMMON: So we know what DeVos has said in the past about teachers needing guns to protect students from bears. But what has she been saying lately in response to the shooting last month in Parkland, Fla.?
KAMENETZ: Well, she told Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes" that she sort of supports the idea that states could choose to arm teachers.
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LESLEY STAHL: Do you think that teachers should have guns in the classroom?
DEVOS: That should be an option for states and communities to consider. And I hesitate to think of, like, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Zorhoff (ph) - I couldn't ever imagine her...
DEVOS: ...Having a gun and being trained in that way. But for those who are capable, this is one solution that can and should be considered.
DEVOS: But no one size fits all. Every state and every community is going to address this issue in a different way.
KAMENETZ: And she also said on the "Today" show everything is on the table and that we have to get much broader than just talking about guns.
MCCAMMON: DeVos says we have to get much broader. What might she mean by broader?
KAMENETZ: Well, there's a long-standing national divide over what really makes schools safer. DeVos' Education Department held a meeting a few months ago on school safety, and they heard from people who are really concerned about violence in schools who say that we need harder discipline, more zero tolerance-type policies.
And then on the other side of the debate, you have a whole lot of scholars and experts calling for more school counselors, more mental health resources, less suspensions, less expulsions and making sure that schools are safer and emotionally healthier places to be. This is kind of the approach that's really backed up by a lot of research. And really I think it's what we're going to be debating in the months to come.
MCCAMMON: Two very different perspectives on what might be the best way to move forward on this issue - that's NPR's education correspondent Anya Kamenetz. Thank you, Anya.
KAMENETZ: Thank you, Sarah.
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