Shootings, threats put safety plans in range
by Mike Eldred and Lauren Harkawik
Mar 02, 2018 | 2261 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DEERFIELD VALLEY - Across the valley this week, the topic of gun violence in schools was discussed in response to the recent school shooting tragedy in Parkland, FL, and the arrest of an 18-year-old Poultney resident who allegedly planned a school shooting in Fair Haven.

At an abbreviated board meeting held before Tuesday evening’s Twin Valley Unified Union School District annual meeting, Twin Valley Elementary School Principal Rebecca Fillion said she and superintendent Chris Pratt have been in contact with Wilmington Police and state police regarding school safety. “I met with them today, knowing they would be the first responders, along with state police, to support the schools,” Fillion said.

Twin Valley School Board Chair Sharon Berry asked how often the schools have a lockdown drills. “We are required to have them every other month, and we have to report them to the state,” Pratt said. “We have to practice lockdowns, emergency procedures, and bus evacuations.”

Fillion said the full lockdown drills includes securing the building and locking all doors, including classroom doors, and students get into safe locations in their classrooms. “It’s pretty routine here, and by the time they leave fifth grade, they’re used to it,” she said.

Pratt said Twin Valley has also had a “safety audit” of their buildings, and have followed recommendations resulting from the audits to improve school safety. “Last year we got a grant for school safety protocols,” he said. “We put safety at the forefront.”

The school also has closed-circuit cameras monitoring various points around the school and school grounds.

Fillion said school safety was her number one consideration as a school administrator. “As an administrator, you hold 250 lives in your hands every day,” she said. “Failing to prepare would be irresponsible, and something you’d have to live with the rest of your life. I’ve always had school safety as a goal. It’s not something you can ever relax about. The reality is that’s a danger we face every single day, in my mind. Every single day, not just this week because of everything else that’s going on.”

At Dover’s pre-Town Meeting, Josh Cohen read aloud a joint letter he drafted on behalf of the Dover School Board and Dover Selectboard demanding congressional action on gun violence in schools. The boards will discuss, and potentially sign, the letter at Town Meeting.

It reads, in part:

“As representatives charged with educating our children and improving the quality of life for our citizens, we demand that you find a way to stop these killings. We do not make suggestions in this letter. We simply demand that you do something! Do not come home until you do,” and, “You, our representatives in Congress, have a responsibility to do something about this national epidemic. To be sure, it is an epidemic. It is time to use your collective wisdom. The fate and lives of our school children are in your hands. Do something!”

Werner said that in Dover, school administrators and town emergency personnel have a 150-page plan for potential incidents. “We secure the buildings every day, we’ve had drills, and we’ve practiced,” said Werner. “Two years ago we met with staff and talked about what would happen if there was an incident at the school.”

Werner noted that during a recent safety audit by the Vermont School Board Association, the plan received accolades for its thoroughness and its employ of a joint effort between emergency and school officials. Police chief Randy Johnson noted that Gov. Phil Scott has requested that all law enforcement conduct threat assessment surveys with school administrators. “They want (the assessment) done in March, so I’ll be going to the school do that,” said Johnson.

“The governor has changed his thinking on all of this,” said Johnson, referring to the issue of gun control and then referencing the alleged planned school shooting in Fair Haven. A day prior to the arrest in Fair Haven, Scott reportedly said he didn’t feel Vermont’s gun laws needed to change in light of the Florida shooting. Immediately following the Fair Haven revelation, Scott shifted his stance, doing what some have called “a complete 180” on the issue of gun control.

In a press release sent February 22, Scott said “The details of a near tragedy here in Vermont have shaken me. And I – along with many others – are re-examining what we can do, to keep our kids and communities safer.”

A press release sent Tuesday by Rep. Laura Sibilia, who is on the Dover School Board, said she and Rep. John Gannon are in the process of planning a joint forum regarding school safety in March.

“There is a sense of urgency to the conversations happening in Montpelier, led by the governor, speaker, and senate pro tem, which includes considering new safety measures as well as legislation increasing regulation of guns,” the release said. “Rep. Gannon and Rep. Sibilia are working to ensure residents, students, staff, and law enforcement in the Deerfield Valley communities are able to weigh in.” Per the release, a date, time, and location for the joint forum will be finalized after Town Meeting.
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