Students press school board on gun safety

Safe storage information to be distributed districtwide


Observer staff

The Champlain Valley School Board agreed Tuesday with a gun-safety-focused student group to distribute a letter to families in the school district urging the safe storage of any firearms in their homes. 

The letter will be distributed this spring. Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said she expects all the principals in the district to sign the letter. It was written by a national gun violence prevention group called Students Demand Action and has been presented to school districts in Vermont by students affiliated with the group as a way to educate families on the issue. The Champlain Valley Union High School Social Justice Alliance has also endorsed the letter. 

The letter urges those who own guns to store them unloaded, locked away and in a separate location from ammunition. It cites national data that shows the efficacy of secure gun storage in reducing suicides and unintentional shooting injuries among children. Legislation that would criminalize the unsafe storage of guns has failed to gain traction in the Vermont Legislature in recent years. 

“This is crucial,” CVU student Eva Frazier told board members during their meeting Tuesday. “People are dying from accidental shooting, including children. This letter is incredibly urgent.”

The board deflected a second request from Students Demand Action that would have gone further to distribute safe gun storage information to families. The students asked the board to vote on a resolution agreeing to include the information in the district’s student handbook and commit to an annual distribution of a separate safe storage letter, asking parents for a signature acknowledging receipt.

Board members said it wasn’t their role to determine the information in the student handbook and directed the students to make the request to school administrators. 

“I understand the importance of the issue, I just think it’s circumventing the role of the board and how we operate as a district,” said board member Colleen MacKinnon.

Board member Ken Scott, however, said the board should take up the resolution.

“We’ve been asked to do something, and our job is to make a reasoned decision,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as complicated as it’s being made out to be.”

Maddie Ahmadi, a student at Essex High School and leader of the Vermont chapter of Students Demand Action, attended the meeting to support the cause. She explained that a gun safe storage letter was distributed earlier this school year to families in the Essex Westford School District. 

“Every day we go to school we have to worry about gun violence, and when we get caught up in logistics, we’re missing the whole point,” she said.

Pinckney pledged to work with the students on bringing the request to the district’s leading administrators, which meet weekly. She said administrators generally support the cause, but that asking families to acknowledge receipt of safe gun storage information with a signature may be problematic.

“What happens if there is no signature? What are the consequences? That is what the administrators would sort out,” she said.