In the series “Forgotten on the Campaign Trail,” we’re continuing to take a look at stories that may be left out of the intense national conversation, but are nonetheless part of a larger truth. You can find more stories at newyork.metro.us.
Over the last seven months, we’ve explored the pressures on the presidency from scandals, policy disagreements, and voters’ growing doubts about Trump’s fitness for office. But none of that explains the seriousness of the issue that has now come to define the Trump era: the treatment of school children, especially in America’s inner cities.
Trump and his campaign have made the general notion of school violence, often an incredibly rare occurrence, a regular talking point.
This was made clear in the notorious tweets he sent last week, in which he attacked the “Failing @nytimes” for “a story that never should have been written.”
On July 26, Trump wrote: “The level of violence in our schools is a disgrace. Too many lives are being lost. We must protect our children.”
Four days later, while speaking at the Make America Great Again rally in Phoenix, he said “thousands and thousands” had died at the hands of gangs and drug-dealers who “would gladly give their lives for our children and our grandchildren.”
In the first few days of September, Trump was discussing a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Rand Paul, Rob Portman, and Dick Durbin to combat school violence. “We need it for our schools,” Trump said, before describing another issue to the point of caricature:
“We need it for mental health and we need it for a whole bunch of different things. But we have to do something about the school safety and they [the Democrats] want open borders. Nobody wants that better than I do. Nobody.”
Of course, the perils of Trump’s rhetoric are far from the only pushback this issue has received.
In May, former federal prosecutor Paul Callan wrote an op-ed in The New York Times questioning whether it’s legitimate to call these killings a mass shooting. Callan argued, among other things, that there’s little connection between schools and what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, despite “media and law enforcement overreaction.”
In October, gun control advocates and state lawmakers sued Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan for promoting an anti-gun ad that falsely demonized teachers as a group, and wrongly equated their jobs with those of shooters.
Despite all the pushback, many students are taking action on their own to combat school violence, particularly in states that lack gun control regulations. For example, in July, Kacey Hartage, a junior at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, created the gun violence prevention non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety. On Wednesday, Everytown announced a $20 million, three-year partnership with the Gates Foundation to support states’ efforts to pass common-sense gun laws.
And under President Trump, the federal government has pursued a track record of supporting school safety that falls short of that of many of the states.
During his first few weeks in office, Trump signed an executive order that barred federal research on gun violence. He later issued a directive that threatened to withhold federal funds from school districts that failed to enact stricter gun safety measures. But the Education Department issued an unusual “review” of that directive, and it withdrew the threat of withholding funding.
“The Trump administration ignores the condition of education in America and is only concerned with how it can benefit its chances in 2020,” Kate Khurshid, president of Network for Public Education, said in a statement. “It’s a shame that the administration’s attempt to turn every child into a ballot vote is being overshadowed by the fact that they want to take away the most effective tools in the efforts to stop gun violence.”
For its part, the White House has released a list of White House programs designed to support schools and security training, as well as its plan to bolster efforts to prevent school violence.