A shift toward safer schools

Observer photo by Al Frey
CVU students Sydney Hicks, left, and Asha Hickok address their peers Friday during a gun violence protest outside the school.

Adults take up the cause after student leaders speak out

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

School safety changes are afoot in the Champlain Valley School District in the wake of student protests last week at Champlain Valley Union High School and Williston Central School.

The protests were part of a nationwide “walk-out” campaign that saw students around the country hold outdoor demonstrations demanding action on school safety and gun restrictions following last month’s deadly school shooting in Florida.

Champlain Valley administrators facilitated the demonstrations — Thursday at WCS and Friday at CVU — and listened as students voiced their concerns. Now they are taking up the cause, along with the district’s board of directors, setting in motion policy changes and pressuring elected officials to restrict access to guns.

On Tuesday, school board members unanimously approved a resolution demanding Vermont legislators and Gov. Phil Scott pass “common-sense gun violence prevention legislation” this year.

The board identified five proposals currently under debate in the Statehouse: creating universal background checks for gun purchases; enabling police to remove guns from the scene of a domestic violence crime; enabling police officers to remove guns from a person a court deems to be an “extreme threat;” outlawing attachments that increase a gun’s rate of fire; and outlawing assault weapons. (See related story, page 17).

“Students have the right to attend school free from the fear of death or injury as a result of gun-related violence,” the resolution reads. “… Inaction is ethically or morally unacceptable.”

Observer photo by Al Frey
Peter Trombley addresses a crowd of fellow students outside CVU on Friday as part of a gun violence protest.
Principal Adam Bunting listens to students speak.

An armed presence at CVU?

When CVU Principal Adam Bunting was the principal of Montpelier High School, there was a local police officer assigned to the school building, known as a school resource officer. More than being the only armed individual in the school, the officer provided support and counseling for students, offering a different set of skills and training than teachers and administrators have.

Bunting is in talks with the police chiefs in CVU’s sending towns — including Williston, Shelburne and Hinesburg — about providing a school resource officer at the high school. He said the position would be funded by the municipalities rather than the school district.

According to Bunting, CVU teachers and administrators are resolutely opposed to President Donald Trump’s suggestion after the Florida shooting that teachers be trained to carry guns in the classroom. Any armed response to an active shooter should be taken by a trained officer, he said.

“I hope we never have a situation where we would need to rely on armed force,” Bunting said. “However, if that situation did arise, I would want a trained professional and someone who knows how to use appropriate force.”

The value of a school resource officer was illustrated Tuesday in Maryland when a gunman shot and wounded two students at a high school there. According to national news reports, a school resource officer opened fire to end the threat in about a minute. The shooter was killed.

In addition to recruiting a school resource officer, Bunting also plans to install video surveillance at the school’s front entrance with an intercom and buzzer system for entry. That is the type of system already in place at the Williston Central School front door.

“We have to create reasonable impediments that would stop someone who wants to cause harm from getting into the building,” Bunting said.

Observer photos by Al Frey
Students gather to protest gun violence Friday outside CVU
Principal Adam Bunting listens to students speak.

‘Run, hide, fight’

In Williston, a committee of educators, firefighters and police officers meets monthly as the Williston Safety Committee. The group’s goal is to continuously improve school safety.

Students gather to listen to school leaders speak against gun violence.

The committee has begun investigating two active shooter protocols for future implementation.

One is termed ALICE: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Officer William Bouffard of the Williston Police Department, who is a certified ALICE trainer, explained the protocol to committee members at a recent meeting.

Last week at a training in St. Albans, committee members learned about another active shooter response option known as the “run, hide, fight” protocol.

“Right now we are in the exploratory phase, trying to get smarter about the options that are out there,” Williston Schools Lead Principal Greg Marino said.

The committee plans an open house April 13 to update community members about school safety efforts in Williston.