Education chief DeVos visits Parkland high school on first full day since shooting

March 7 (UPI) — U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos held a “listening session” Wednesday at the South Florida high school where 17 people were killed in a shooting attack last month.

Her visit came on the first full day of classes at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, Fla., since a shooter opened fire on the campus. Seventeen people died and 16 were injured in the assault, which galvanized support for gun control across the United States and brought high school-age citizens to the forefront of the debate.

DeVos laid a wreath in front of the school Wednesday to honor the victims of the attack.

Reporters were not allowed on campus during DeVos’ visit Wednesday, but she said at a Coral Springs hotel, not far from the school. “We are committed not only to listening, but to action.”

“It was a very sobering and inspiring moment and visit,” she added, saying she would rely on Florida’s legislature to deal with the topic of gun control.

DeVos met with school administrators, counselors and some students during the visit.

The visit occurred as Florida lawmakers are debating a school safety legislative package that’s expected to narrowly pass the House and be sent to Gov. Rick Scott. The House Democratic Caucus, though, voted Wednesday against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, mainly because it contains a provision to arm teachers.

Among other things, the bill would raise the state’s firearm purchasing age from 18 to 21, impose a three-day waiting period, ban “bump stocks” and give law enforcement more authority to take guns from mentally ill owners. Tuesday, Oregon became the first state in the nation to enact new gun legislation since the attack, closing a loophole that allowed some owners convicted of domestic violence to keep their firearms.

The Senate passed the bill Monday, but it’s unclear whether Scott would sign it. A spokeswoman said he will make the decision if the proposal reaches his desk.

Some students said they were less impressed by DeVos’ visit than Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade’s, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

A Twitter comment from student Alanna wrote, “Betsy DeVos came to my school, talked to three people, and pet a dog. This is in case the press tries to say something else later.” Another student, Aly Sheehy, wrote, “You came to our school just for publicity and avoided our questions for the 90 minutes you were actually here. How about you actually do your job?”

The Broward County Teachers Union tweeted, “Kudos to [Superintendent Robert] Runcie & Board Members [Rosalind] Osgood & [Abby] Freedman for talking to MSD students after Betsy DeVos visited, but didn’t have time for them.”

In New York City’s Times Square, a tribute to the 17 teachers and students who died flashed on a massive billboard on Tuesday. The sign’s banner displayed the names of those killed, and 17 soaring eagles, the high school’s mascot.

The display was donated by media company Big Sign Message after it was approached by school alumni Shane Fedderman and Stacey Goldman, seeking a New York City tribute.

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