It is unfortunate when a member of an institution of honor and integrity, such as the Vermont State Police, makes an inaccurate statement to the national media, but that is exactly what one of our local troopers did to the students of the Bennington community.
It is even more unfortunate when a writer, hungry for a sensationalized story, fails to check her facts. Had Ms. Seelye taken the time to truly investigate our community, she would have known that the Vermont State Police are rarely, if ever, in our schools. Of the three law enforcement agencies in our community, the only one that Ms. Seelye quoted in reference to our schools was the only agency that is never in them.
If Ms. Seelye had spent any time in our schools, perhaps the multitude of pictures in her article would have included one of these alleged "baggies in the hallway." Of course, this picture could not be included in the article, because the words of Trooper Godrey were simply not true.
Through their irresponsibility in this matter, the Vermont State Police and the New York Times may have compromised the futures of our students.
Right now, when a Bennington student is being considered for admission to a college, there is a chance that an admissions officer will allow the article that appeared in the New York Times to sway his/her decision. When Bennington students apply for jobs, they will do so with the stigma of this article lurking overhead.
According to the Bennington Banner, the Vermont State Police plan to "speak to the school" about the quote in the New York Times, but that is not enough. A private apology does not make up for a public betrayal, nor does it change the reputation of our students that was created by this quote.
Our students deserve a very public apology and retraction.
In response to being portrayed as a bunch of heroin users by the New York Times, our students have taken offense, and rightfully so. They have clearly articulated why this situation bothers them. These great kids do not associate themselves with the problems reported in the New York Times.
To our students, I applaud your response, but it is time to take it one step further. I encourage you to write to both the Vermont State Police and the New York Times to express your disgust with their handling of this situation. More importantly, however, I urge you to not only stay committed to your education, but to increase your commitment. Do not only what your teachers expect of you, but wow them on a daily basis. Go on to college and show them that you are not who the Vermont State Police told the world that you are.
It would be naive to say that our schools are without their problems, but failure to achieve perfection does not mean that our students have hit rock bottom. It is time for them to show the world what they are capable of.
Billy Obenauer is a resident of Shaftsbury. He teaches business management at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center.