Vermont students, school officials react to Texas shooting

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 5:34 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is 2,000 miles from Uvalde, Texas, but students here are well aware of what happened at the elementary school there Tuesday. Students at Essex High School Wednesday organized a walk-out calling for change.

“Enough is enough.” That was the message scrawled on the front sidewalk of Essex High School Wednesday as upwards of 100 students spent their morning walking out and calling for stricter gun regulations across the country.

“It doesn’t stop at a walkout. We need to take action, we need to urge our governor to push common-sense gun legislation. We need to push all legislators to push common-sense gun legislation,” said Maddie Ahmadi, a junior who organized the rally and part of the Vermont chapter of the national group Students Demand Action. She says the group felt compelled to gather their classmates after hearing the news in Texas.

Students participating in the walkout say they’ve been doing active shooter drills their whole lives and going to school can feel really scary. “I could be the next victim, I could be the next person, said Ishmita Pradajan, a sophomore. “People could be taking a moment of silence for me. It’s scary, you know? It’s scary to have these thoughts as a 16-year-old.”

“Absolutely terrifying being in school. Students shouldn’t be scared to have an education,” said Ava Schnieder, a sophomore.

Essex Elementary is the only school in the state that has suffered a school shooting back in 2006. Teacher Alicia Shanks was killed. In 2018, a student was arrested after being accused of a plan to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School, prompting Republican Governor Phil Scott to sign several gun control measures.

“Terrifying. At any moment -- it could have been us yesterday,” Ahmadi said.

“I’m always concerned now for my grandchildren,” said Joanne McConnell, who picks up her 14 and 10-year-old grandchildren from school. “It’s really devastating and I hope it would never happen in our schools. But we know it’s a possibility, it’s always something we live in. It could happen in a school where your child or grandchild goes.”

“I was in a state of shock I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the newscast,” said Patrick Wright, the father of a 9-year-old. He says they talked to their daughter about Uvalde. “If she sees signs in any of her classmates that’s something that can help a classmate... If it’s seen now, early on, that’s something that can help them 10 years down the road.”

Trauma expert Sonny Provetto says talking to your kids is key, “limiting the exposure to children seeing the news and seeing what’s going on to have parents talk with them in concrete ways of explaining you know, the fact that we are safe. We try to keep you safe and that you’re and that your school tries to do the same thing.”

Many schools in the state follow the “If you see something, say something” campaign, and all are required to have an emergency operations plan and their own protocol. One example is Slate Valley Unified Union’s protocol, which includes evacuation and lockdown drills and locking mechanisms. In St. Johnsbury schools, recent upgrades include a buzz-in feature to enter the building. And in Essex Westford, they have secure entryways and an officer assigned to the schools.

VERMONT SCHOOLS OFFER SUPPORT TO STUDENTS AND STAFF

Officials in our region tell us safety planning and support systems in place are helping kids and teachers to cope. Darren Perron spoke with Colchester Superintendent Amy Minor.

NEW YORK SCHOOL GRAPPLES WITH TEXAS AFTERMATH

Aimee Defayette, principal of the Ausable Forks Elementary School says safety is always top of mind at the school and they are constantly looking for ways to improve.

They have high-tech locks on all of their doors and a security system and a rotating school resource officer. The school’s custodial staff have also been tasked with making extra rounds around the building to ensure added safety

“We are as a district always looking at our safety plans and making sure that we are being as vigilant as we can be,” Defayette said.

Defayette says they had counselors sitting in classrooms across the district to make sure the students and teachers knew they could speak to someone if needed or even just have a moment to sit and process.

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