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Students at Manchester Elementary Middle School head to class in this file photo. The Taconic & Green Regional School District Board sent a letter to families Friday calling on state and federal lawmakers to do more to keep students safe from gun violence. 

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MANCHESTER — The Taconic & Green Regional School District Board of Directors has called on the state’s Congressional delegation and state lawmakers to do more to make schools safe, including additional gun safety legislation.

The letter, approved by all 11 members in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, does not make specific recommendations for new laws or policies. But it expresses that members are deeply concerned about the safety of the district’s schools, students and teachers, and reminds residents that “see something, say something” remains a key element of the district’s safety policy.

“We are heartbroken by the violence affecting our nation’s schools and communities,” says the letter, which was also shared on the district website and sent to families.

“As a local school board, we are responsible for thinking and planning should such an event happen here in our community. It’s terrifying,” the letter says. “While we have worked hard to help secure our schools and care for our children, we are deeply troubled by the lack of progress that has been made to safeguard our young learners from the threat of gun violence.”

In the letter, the board said it has worked to enhance safety, invested significantly in mental health supports, and built a culture of “see something, say something” to help keep schools safe.

“Unfortunately, as the Board noted in 2018 and still believes today, there is no adequate way for schools to protect our students and staff from a person armed with an assault weapon,” the letter says. “Children must be better protected from unstored weapons, assault rifles and clips that hold more than a handful of shells.”

Board Chair Herbert Ogden of Mount Tabor and Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Randi Lowe both hailed the compromise reached by board members from the T&G’s nine towns.

“I was unbelievably impressed at their ability to really talk about the issues and respectfully draft this letter – and have it be something that everyone could stand behind. It was really inspiring,” Lowe said Friday.

“In moments like these, to see people with very different perspectives coming together and finding common ground and presenting a statement to the community was really inspiring. It provided me with some hope,” Lowe said.

Ogden and Lowe both said Vermont law is ahead of federal law in many respects, as a result of the legislative proposals Gov. Phil Scott signed into law in 2018 after what police termed a mass shooting plot at Fair Haven High School was uncovered and halted.

“There are no absolute guarantees that laws or access policies can stop a would-be shooter, Ogden said – noting that’s why “see something, say something” is so important.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean police work would be involved,” Ogden said in the case of reporting a concern about a community member. “It doesn’t mean the SWAT team is going to show up next door. It may be something a social worker needs to handle.”

On May 24, an 18-year-old man stormed into an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, 80 miles west of San Antonio, murdering 19 students and two teachers and injuring 16 others before police fatally shot him. That incident followed a spate of mass shootings across the country – including a Buffalo, N.Y., shooting at a supermarket in a largely African-American neighborhood, now being investigated as a federal hate crime.

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After those shootings, Lowe said she heard from numerous parents concerned about safety of the BRSU’s buildings.

The U.S. Congress responded with a bipartisan gun safety bill, approved Friday by 234-193 vote in the House and 65-33 in the Senate on Thursday. The bill, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign, would incrementally toughen requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms from more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous.

While the bill omits tougher restrictions sought by Democrats, it stands as the most impactful gun violence measure that Congress has approved since it enacted a now-expired assault weapons ban nearly 30 years ago.

The Taconic and Green letter, approved Wednesday, has been sent to federal and state lawmakers, including Gov. Phil Scott’s office. It, too, called for compromise with the objective of keeping children and teachers safe.

“We are calling for compassion and action,” the letter says. “Compassion for each other and the victims of these heinous acts of violence, to be understanding of our differences, and to find common ground to better protect and care for our children.”

Ogden said a subcommittee led by board member Ben Freeman of Landgrove handled the initial draft of the letter, and that the 11 members of the board meeting Wednesday discussed additional changes before granting unanimous approval. Members David Chandler and Jeff Wilson were not present for Wednesday’s meeting. Freeman had not responded to an email by press time Friday.

“We came together to draft this letter as individuals with different opinions and perspectives. We are students, teachers, parents, and grandparents, doctors, lawyers and retirees. Despite our differences, our collective commitment to our children and a willingness to really listen to each other allowed us to find common ground,” the letter says.

“We recognize that we live in a rural area with a long tradition of hunting and safe use of guns. We respect that history. However, to ensure the safety of our children, our school staff, and our communities at large, the board believes we need to come together, speak up and find better solutions together.”

“We recognize that laws alone cannot protect our children, just as added locks and cameras cannot fully safeguard our buildings,” the letter says. “We need these things, but even more we need people to come together in community, to find common ground, to know and be known by our neighbors, and to care first for our kids. We hope you will join us.”

After two years of responding to the COVID pandemic, Lowe said she plans to spend the summer focusing on crisis response plans and building security.

While Vermont is “ahead of the curve” on some laws, she said, her focus will be on reassessing perimeter security at each of the BRSU’s buildings and making sure there are “practices, supports and services in place for our students to best meet their needs.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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