U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, spoke out against a potential policy that would allow schools to use federal funds to arm teachers with guns at a press conference at Wilbur Cross High School on Monday morning. In her remarks, DeLauro urged attendees to contact members of Congress and demand that specific language be included in federal funding legislation to prohibit arming teachers.

“We have heard from the students, our youngsters who are the most vulnerable,” DeLauro said at the event, referring to high school students who have held walkouts and other demonstrations in recent months. “They are the people we need to be listening to.”

The New York Times reported in August that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is considering allowing states to use funding provided through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to purchase firearms and train teachers. Ambiguity in the language in that legislation would allow DeVos to move funds in that way, unless Congress were to prevent the funds from being used for arming teachers.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. — a member of the U.S. Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — has been a vocal supporter of firearm restrictions, and an opponent of proposals to arm school teachers. He has proposed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prevent DeVos from allowing districts to use federal funds to bring weapons into classrooms.

New Haven Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks echoed DeLauro’s sentiments at the press conference. As New Haven Public Schools has confronted major fiscal issues, the district has been forced to make difficult cuts, closing schools and laying off staff. Birks said she would accept additional federal funds to staff Elm City schools with more psychologists and social workers — but not to arm teachers.

“My job as a teacher was to teach students, provide them with authentic learning experiences, push them to think, to do some deep level critical analysis, and create opportunities to bolster their social emotional learning skills,” Birks said.

Thaddeus Reddish, director of security for the school system, said at a Board of Education meeting in April that he has met with principals and teachers across the school district and that in many ways, students are more prepared than adults for an emergency.  In March, students from several New Haven high schools staged walkouts as part of nationwide demonstrations advocating for stricter gun control legislation. Wilbur Cross Principal Edith Johnson praised the students’ work organizing the event — at which 16 students performed songs, speeches and poems.

A new task force — comprised of representatives from the Fire Department, the Police Department, the Office of Emergency Management and the school system — started in the wake of the Parkland shooting to investigate ways to bolster security in New Haven schools.

Reddish could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu