Betsy DeVos Faces Lawsuit From Teachers, Gun Control Group Over Proposal to Arm Schoolteachers

On the heels of learning Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was weighing whether or not to allow states to use federal money to arm school teachers with guns, teachers, gun control and civil rights groups are prepared to sue the Education Department if it moves forward with such a measure.

"Our complaint will seek a declaration that allowing these federal funds to be spent on guns instead of activities meant to make schools feel safe is unlawful, as well as an order from the court enjoining the Department of Education from approving such funds," chief counsel Adam Skaggs of the Giffords Law Center told NBC News Friday.

The group was co-founded by former Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, herself a shooting survivor. The group is leading the possible suit.

Other members who have joined the legal threat include the American Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Democracy Forward, a nonpartisan legal group that handles government overreach cases.

"We are extraordinarily concerned with this dangerous, and what we believe to be unlawful, proposal under consideration to supply teachers with federal funds to buy guns for their classrooms, instead of books and school supplies," Skaggs said.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut made a last-minute effort Thursday to legally prohibit the measure by filing an "emergency" amendment as part of the $675 billion military spending bill passed Thursday, but the amendment failed to be considered. While 53 other amendments were successfully added to the appropriations bill, Murphy's was not.

Murphy, whose district is home to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 children who were 6 and 7 years old, along with six adult staff members, said DeVos's consideration of the measure meant that she "cares more about the firearms industry's bottom line than the safety of our kids, and that should scare parents to death."

"I have two elementary-school-age boys," Murphy said in a statement and on the Senate floor Thursday. "So I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that Secretary DeVos's plan to arm our schools is stopped in its tracks."

"Congress doesn't think this is a good idea. Parents don't think this is a good idea. Teachers don't think this is a good idea," said Murphy. "Only Betsy DeVos and the gun industry want this. More kids will be killed in schools if this policy is put in place—plain and simple."

The question of whether states are allowed to use the grant money for weapons purchases arose after education officials in Texas and Oklahoma asked DeVos if schools could use Title IV federal funding under Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants. The purpose of the grants is to provide students in underfunded schools with "access to a well-rounded education," such as arts, music and science programs; "improve school conditions for student learning," meaning health and counseling services; and provide new, innovative technology to help students learn.

But Texas school districts have reportedly asked the Education Department whether they could use the grant money on "guns, gun training/marshal training for school personnel, metal protectors, bullet proof entries, or other services associated with crisis management," according to an internal Education Department email obtained by NBC News.

The move would break with agency norms to not give schools money for weapons, but a loophole in the federal SSAE grant guidelines may give DeVos the reasoning she needs to allow the schools make weapons and training purchases. Under the health services section, it states funds may be used "to provide training for school personnel to address issues related to school conditions for student learning, such as safety, peer interaction, drug and alcohol abuse and chronic absenteeism."

In a statement, Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill said the department "is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety. The Secretary nor the Department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios."

Two school shootings earlier this year reignited the country's debate over whether teachers should be armed or if armed guards should be placed on school grounds.

As a result of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February, Florida now gives school districts the option of allowing teachers, staff or school safety "guardians" to be armed. The guardians are not police officers but rather everyday citizens who are put through background checks, mental health evaluations and a six-week training course.

In May, a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School, near Houston.