Vt. school officials, police meet behind closed doors to discuss campus safety procedures

Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 4:44 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - School safety was in the spotlight Wednesday as Vermont education officials, school leaders, and law enforcement, met to access how to protect students from gun violence and other potential threats.

The annual conference in South Burlington is aimed at helping law enforcement and school officials share ideas to make schools safer, with a focus on prevention.

“It’s all of us working together and pulling in the same direction so we can identify problems before they blossom,” said Vermont Governor Phil Scott.

The Republican governor in 2018 helped push sweeping new gun laws following a thwarted school shooting plot in Fair Haven. One of them, a red flag law, was used this past spring at Montpelier High School. That preventive action, leaders say, involves so-called behavioral threat assessments. “It’s really understanding the temperature of your building in any given moment, understanding the emotional context of individual students -- collectively, how the student body is doing and how staff is doing,” said Vermont Education Secretary Dan French.

Now, if a student shows concerning behavior or statements, school counselors or law enforcement are brought in to speak with the student, their peers, and their family. Then, depending on the level of concern, action may be taken.

The state, along with Williston-based consulting firm Margolis Healy, operates the Vermont School Safety Center, providing guidance on particular cases as well as hosting trainings for districts. French says over the last decade, the conversation around school safety has been focused on physical brick-and-moartar security. However as educators and law enforcement have gained a better understanding of social and emotional learning, preparations have evolved.

But leaders say more can be done.

“School violence is not inevitable. School violence can be prevented. So, that’s why we’re pouring resources into trainings,” said Erica Bornemann, the director at Vermont Emergency Management.

Wednesday’s conference also featured numerous high-profile education and law enforcement officials. However, members of the media were not allowed in the room. French says the information shared isn’t private but that collaboration among participants would be inhibited if reporters were present. “It’s really critical to give them the space to do that -- just like any professional learning experience. The goal here is learning for the participants.”

Right now, school districts’ participation in trainings is not required, although French says they are considering taking a more hands on approach. “I think that’s our growing conclusion -- that growing regulation is a better idea,” he said.

French says the Agency of Education is considering that kind of a proposal to bring to the Legislature in January.

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