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Officials try to reassure parents after 2nd violent incident in Bristol schools

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 6:24 PM EDT
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BRISTOL, Vt. (WCAX) - Two serious incidents of student violence in less than a month in an Addison County school district have parents calling for action.

The most recent incident happened Monday at Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol. A fight between two students sent one child to the hospital. Mount Abraham Unified School District officials aren’t providing any details but the victim’s mother says her child was kicked in the face twice and was diagnosed with a concussion at the hospital.

Dozens of families we spoke to in the five town district say their kids are scared to go to class and insist the administration needs to be held accountable and take immediate action.

“If they’re waiting for a tragedy to happen, it will. If they don’t do something now, it will happen,” said Jill Bohannon of Bristol. All of her four children have either attended or are currently enrolled in the district. After Monday’s incident, she says her high school student was so disturbed he stayed home the next day.

Bohannon says she fears the administration isn’t taking the social-emotional needs of some struggling students seriously. It’s a problem she and many other parents claim can be traced back to before the pandemic. Now, they’re worried the worst could happen. “School shootings were an issue before, and I’m scared that that could potentially happen again,” she said. “I wonder every day, what’s next? What’s next?”

Safety concerns came to a head last month at Bristol Elementary School. While a young student was in crisis, a first-grade classroom was significantly damaged and some staff members were injured.

Unionized teachers say violent outbursts are becoming more common across all grades. “I would say the last two years have been different. The behaviors that we’re seeing are different and more escalated and things that I just don’t think classroom teachers are equipped to deal with,” said Andrea Murnane, a teacher at the school.

That same week, teachers begged the administration to implement new safety policies. The school board concluded that transparency should be a priority and is exploring solutions including creating community councils. Mount Abraham Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Reen on Wednesday sent out a letter saying leaders will now notify families whenever a school uses a safety command like “clear the halls.”

Despite the district’s efforts, teachers and parents say school leaders aren’t doing enough for kids in crisis. “I feel like we could be doing more to support them and I feel like we could be doing more to support the kids who are in the classroom,” Murnane said.

In a written statement, Superintendent Reen says a small percentage of students are still exhibiting extreme behaviors but the disciplinary infractions -- at the high school specifically -- have actually decreased since the start of the semester. He says the district employs numerous behavioral support staff and psychological professionals, though several positions are proving difficult to fill.

The Vermont-NEA late Wednesday forwarded a statement from the Mount Abraham Education Association saying, “The incident in the middle school should upset us all. Our hearts go out to the students and their families and caregivers. However, this is precisely why we are seeking action on this issue. It is imperative that the administration and the board act to provide the resources and systems our students need, especially for those in crisis. Our students – all students – deserve no less.”

Related Story:

Violence, fear at Vt. elementary school as kids in crisis disrupt classes

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