Giffords Law Center, American Federation of Teachers, Southern Poverty Law Center, Democracy Forward Sue Dept. of Education for Violating FOIA Laws
October 17, 2018 — Today, Democracy Forward, on behalf of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, sued the Trump administration for withholding records detailing the administration’s unlawful decision to permit the use of federal grant funds to arm teachers in classrooms across America.
Despite the risk Secretary DeVos’ decision will pose to the safety of young children, the Trump administration has refused to fully disclose details about which school districts are seeking to arm teachers and what role the gun lobby played in the administration’s dangerous action.
“Turning teachers into armed guards is both reckless and insulting to the millions of American children and parents who want to see their schools become more safe – not less,” said Adam Skaggs, Giffords Law Center Chief Counsel. “Betsy DeVos and President Trump’s Department of Education appear content to ignore the overwhelming opposition, from law enforcement and teachers, to putting guns in classrooms. How the administration decided to pursue this ill-advised course of action remains a mystery because they are stonewalling our request for information, but this lawsuit will force Secretary DeVos to be forthright with the American people and explain just how the Department came up with this plan.”
“The Department of Education continues to try to flood schools with guns, pretending that educators, administrators, school districts and parents want schools turned into armed fortresses, and that there is evidence that this will make schools safer – but they’re refusing to produce any information, much less evidence, that backs up those false claims. Meanwhile, I’ve heard from teachers around the country – many of them gun owners – who tell me that bringing guns into the classroom makes them less safe, not more. It’s time Betsy DeVos started standing up for kids and teachers, not the NRA,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT President.
The suit comes after public reports first revealed the administration would allow school districts to arm teachers using federal funds. The Department publicly cited requests from states, including Oklahoma, as the reason to arm teachers, but refused to provide the public all the information concerning which school districts made the request—an issue the gun lobby has pushed for years.
“Success in school comes from high-quality educators and dedicated support services,”said Zoe Savitsky, Deputy Legal Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Allowing funds intended to make schools healthy and safe for all children to be used to arm teachers places the interests of the corporate gun lobby above making schools truly welcoming, and inclusive environments. Secretary DeVos has once again shown her blatant disregard for her role in protecting all of the nation’s schoolchildren.”
In an attempt to deflect blame following bipartisan backlash, Secretary DeVos hid behind Congress, incorrectly claiming school districts have the flexibility to use Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants to arm teachers. The use of these federal grant funds to purchase firearms and firearms training for teachers and other school staff is unlawful.
“Secretary DeVos’ attempts to hide how the administration decided to greenlight the arming of America’s educators is not only dangerous, it’s illegal,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “The administration’s disregard for the law is a clear pattern that must be stopped.”
Instead of being transparent with American families on the administration’s unlawful decision, the Department continues to hide information, necessitating this lawsuit. The groups are suing on two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking records. The first of these was filed on August 27, 2018, and sought records discussing or revealing the role the gun lobby played in the administration’s dangerous action. The second FOIA request was filed on September 11, 2018, and sought details about which school districts are attempting to arm teachers using federal funds. As of the date of this complaint, the Trump administration has not complied with its statutory obligations.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.