SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – School safety was in the spotlight on Wednesday as Vermont education officials, school leaders and law enforcement came together to learn how to protect students from gun violence. and other potential threats.
The annual conference in South Burlington aims to help law enforcement and school officials share ideas for making 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 arise,” Vermont Governor Phil Scott said.
In 2018, the Republican governor helped push through sweeping new gun laws following a thwarted school shooting plot in Fair Haven. One of them, a red flag law, was used last spring at Montpelier High School. According to executives, this preventive action involves so-called behavioral threat assessments. “It’s really about understanding the temperature of your building at any given time, understanding the emotional context of each student – collectively how the student body is doing and how the staff are doing,” said the education secretary of the Vermont, Dan French.
Now, if a student shows disturbing 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 can be taken.
The state, along with Williston-based consulting firm Margolis Healy, operates the Vermont School Safety Center, providing advice on special cases and conducting training for districts. French says that over the past decade, the conversation about school safety has focused on physical physical safety. 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.
“Violence at school is not inevitable. School violence can be prevented. That’s why we’re devoting resources to training,” said Erica Bornemann, director of Vermont Emergency Management.
Wednesday’s conference also brought together many high-level education and law enforcement officials. However, members of the media were not permitted in the room. French says the information shared is not private, but that collaboration between participants would be inhibited if journalists were present. “It’s really essential to give them the space to do that, as with any professional learning experience. The goal here is to learn for the participants.
Currently, school district participation in trainings isn’t required, though French says they’re 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 Education Agency is considering this kind of proposal to present to the Legislative Assembly in January.
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