More than 30 congressional Democrats on Tuesday called on federal agencies to address what they deemed as “misguided” school safety policies aimed at preventing school shootings.
In a letter to the Department of Justice, Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services, House lawmakers said the government has failed to protect schoolchildren and families in the wake of at least 30 school shootings this year, including the May tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
“Schools are supposed to be safe havens for children, parents, educators, custodial and cafeteria
staff, and communities. But for far too many people they are not,” the letter reads. “We are deeply troubled by the inability to keep our children and communities safe, the bedrock on which any country rests. It is time to undo the harm and trauma tragedies like the Uvalde massacre leave behind in our schools and with our children.”
The letter was signed by prominent House Democrats, including Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Andre Carson (Ind.).
House lawmakers said federal, state and local agencies have failed the American public by focusing school safety prevention efforts on hiring, retaining and funding school resource officers, an approach they called “counterproductive and harmful.”
Representatives pointed to the Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools Program (COPS), which has primarily supported community policing initiatives since 1995 but has also led to the hiring of 590 school resource officers (SROs) across 289 communities. For fiscal 2023, the Biden administration has requested increased funds for the COPS budget.
The Democrats argued that schools with armed SROs have higher rates of death and also more youth expulsions and arrests. They also pointed to the more than 300 officers who responded to the Uvalde school shooting, but who failed to act for more than an hour while a gunman had locked himself into two adjoining classrooms with children who were still alive.
“Armed officers in schools are, at best, an inadequate response to violence that has already
occurred, not a prevention strategy,” lawmakers wrote.
Since the 1999 shooting at Columbine, school shootings have soared, reaching an all-time high of 251 last year, according to the K-12 school shooting database. Despite the rise, major gun control legislation was tied up until the first major federal gun control bill in decades was passed this year after the Uvalde shooting.
Over the years, school shooting prevention methods have largely revolved around bolstering school security, including security technology and emergency plans.
Gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety says among the most effective ways to prevent school shootings is to address violence at its earliest stages and block access to firearms.
Lawmakers on Tuesday proposed more programs to support students, including mental health resources, but they requested the federal agencies to conduct a review of what is most appropriate.
“We urge you to break this cycle of violence and recommit to public health and safety strategies that will ensure our schools are safe for all students,” they wrote in the letter. “This requires thinking comprehensively about violence in our schools to ensure that we prevent violence – by resolving the root causes of conflict that can escalate into violence – not simply remedy its impact.”