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Federal Commission On School Safety Holds Its Final Listening Session


President Trump formed the Federal Commission on School Safety just weeks after the February mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Members of the panel have visited school districts across the country, looking at security and mental health resources. The commission held its fourth and final public listening session yesterday in Montgomery, Ala. As Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott reports, there was a common theme from those who spoke - concern about the idea of putting guns in schools.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Montgomery resident Adam Vincent was among the first to speak at the Alabama statehouse. He told the commission that his best friend from high school committed suicide when he was in college.

ADAM VINCENT: He was upset over a breakup with his girlfriend and stole the gun from another student's room where it was unsecured. He never had the chance to fulfill the bright future he had ahead of him.

GASSIOTT: Vincent is a member of two advocacy groups - the Everytown Survivor Network and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. He told the commission that his friend's death motivated him to speak out against guns in schools.

VINCENT: As someone who has lost a loved one to gun violence, it has broken my heart to know the daily impact of gun violence in this country and see such an abundance of mass shootings over the past year, and school shootings in particular.

GASSIOTT: Speakers included teachers, superintendents, school counselors and advocates for gun control. Many were there to respond to reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is weighing whether to allow districts to spend federal dollars on arming schools. DeVos is the chairwoman of the School Safety Commission but did not attend the meeting here in Montgomery. In June, DeVos told lawmakers at a congressional hearing that the commission would not focus on the role of guns in school violence.

This was the last of the commission's four listening sessions. One was held in Washington, D.C., and the others in Kentucky, Wyoming and Alabama, states that voted for President Trump in 2016. Many of the speakers in Montgomery opposed calls to arm schools.

MARLYN TILLMAN: Students do not need more cops and guns to be safe. And they certainly won't benefit from having scarce education dollars diverted to buy guns for teachers.

GASSIOTT: That's Marlyn Tillman, a parent and education advocate who traveled to Montgomery from Gwinnett County, Ga. Her organization, Gwinnett SToPP, works to keep kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline. She told the commission that arming school staff sends the wrong message. Instead, she had this request.

TILLMAN: Arm us with proven strategies for us improving school climate. Create a climate and culture where students are emotionally and physically safe to learn.

GASSIOTT: Karen Sullins provides counseling services to schools in and around Montgomery. She wanted the commission to know that, for some students, school is already a safe space.

KAREN SULLINS: I feel really, really passionate about the fact that a lot of my kids who are mostly in poverty-type situations go to school because school is their solace, school is their place where they get to go and feel safe. And I just thought I need to come and say something because these kids don't have a voice.

GASSIOTT: The commission is expected to issue recommendations by the end of a year. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Montgomery, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIEUX'S "RUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kyle Gassiott
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