St. Johnsbury schools looking into a homeless student policy

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 11:48 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Northeast Kingdom community is considering adopting a policy that would protect and support homeless students.

This comes after Saint Johnsbury’s Development Review Board recently voted that the Fairbanks inn was violating town zoning rules. The DRB says the hotel has been operating as a “temporary overnight shelter.” Town manager Chad Whitehead says they want the best for those living there, but this isn’t sustainable.

“The decision to utilize that building in the way it is being used was made without any input from the town, so it just taxed our resources and didn’t include us in the conversation,” Whitehead said.

St. Johnsbury School Superintendent Karen Conroy tells me the district has more than 20 homeless students, many of whom are living at the Fairbanks Inn. School officials say the adoption of policy addressing homelessness would be in-line with their mission to take care of all students.

Now, the hotel is working to appeal the decision. This means those who moved there under the state’s homeless hotel program can stay for now. While there are many questions about what will happen if the appeal is lost, the school district is being proactive in protecting students. “We’re looking at adopting a model policy provided to us from the Vermont School Board Association,” Conroy said.

“It will ensure there’s no stigma following these kids because of their housing insecurities,” explained School Board Chair Mark Avery.

The policy would allow students to enroll without records that would normally be required, stay in a school even if they must move, and be provided bussing.

Conroy says the funding for this comes primarily through federal grants. “We always set aside funds to make sure we can support families with items they just may need in the transition of a new home. Books, supplies, clothing…”

She and Avery say many of these resources are already in place. The policy is to make sure they’re protected going forward. “We want to ensure they have a safe place, providing them all the resources,” Conroy said. “We are here for our kids,” Avery stated. “They’re the most important people and they have a silent voice, so we’re speaking up for them.” The school board plans to adopt this policy during one of their December meetings.