BY MAT CLOUSER
Following the horrific events at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, local school district faculty and staff are showing renewed vigor in reviewing safety systems, talking with area police, and reviewing school protocols to keep students safe.
While school safety and fear of a potential school shooting have become a part of the day-to-day reality, it still weighs on school faculty, administrators and staff. Several have expressed their disbelief at finding themselves in the specter of an unending wave of school violence.
“We all were stunned and horrified. Again. It rocks you to your core,” said OVUHS principal Jim Avery. “Our kids are doing the best they can. Some have greater anxiety than others.”
“We live in a world where this is an unfortunate reality,” said QVUU’s somber but resolute superintendent, Chris Sell. “You can’t let your guard down. But we have a lot of good systems already in place. Our safety audits have happened within the last year. We feel comfortable where we are, but we’re constantly trying to improve our situational awareness. It’s in the back of everyone’s mind—this is the state of education today.”
Vermont’s Student Safety Liaison Officer Rob Evans said his office has been fielding calls from educators since the Texas shooting, but also made a point to laud them for being proactive. “Prior to the tragedy, many had already reached out to engage in safety audits. Vermont has been good about outreach,” he said.
Evans discussed several areas of focus, highlighting the importance of the “See Something/Say Something” campaign and its role in behavioral threat assessment.
“We know that prior to these kinds of incidents, there’s leakage,” Evans said. “In most cases, somebody is talking. Hopefully, we can encourage people who hear things to speak up, and we can stop things in advance.”
Evans said his office had asked schools to reach out to the first responders in their communities to re-establish training exercises that may have been put on hold due to COVID restrictions.
“We have over 300 school safety partners, including law enforcement and guidance and mental health counselors, and ongoing training that will stretch into the fall and beyond,” he explained.
RNESU Superintendent Jeanne Collins said she was awaiting a meeting with Brandon Chief of Police David Kachajian to discuss any new adjustments, but cited several ongoing facility safety and response measures.
Among those is a recent security card system—in place since the 2019-20 school year—that restricts access to approved individuals; regular safety audits and drills above and beyond standard fire drills; and preventative measures such as partnering with Rutland Mental Health Center and Counseling Services of Addison County—who bring their clinicians into the schools to offer direct access to students in need.
In particular, Collins emphasized the Run/Hide/Fight training received by all students and staff, pointing out that the tools gained there extend beyond the classroom.
“These are life skills,” she said. “It’s an unfortunate part of society, but we have to work with the community and the police to identify potential threats. What plays out in schools starts out in the world.”
“These kids have been stressed to the max with COVID already,” West Rutland School Principal Jay Slenker said about the need to use delicacy in discussing the recent shooting with his students in grades K-12. “We take age into account. Most of our faculty are parents too. We all take ownership of the kids, and it helps in times of crisis.”
“Like all small towns, everything stops and starts at the school,” he added. “We want to make ourselves available to the community and the students. It’s on all of us to take care of the kids. And we will.”
Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French has urged anyone looking for more information or ways that they can be proactive in the ongoing safety efforts to head to https://schoolsafety.vermont.gov/ to learn more about what initiatives are in place as well as different ways individuals may participate in reviewing the existing systems with their local schools.
Anyone with information about a potential threat can register an anonymous tip online at http://safe4vt.org/, call the anonymous tip line at (844) 723-3488, or TEXT 274637 with the keyword SAFE4VT followed by their information.
The Vermont Department of Mental Health offers resources for discussing traumatic events with children and resources for anyone dealing with fear and anxiety stemming from these or other traumatic events via their website: https://mentalhealth.vermont.gov/.