School violence prevention panel wraps up public hearings

Local News

A 14-member taskforce held their last public comment session Monday and will now decide on a long list of recommendations to improve school safety. 

Gov. Phil Scott’s Community Violence Prevention Taskforce hopes to have a final report by June 1.

The most recent draft includes 52 different recommendations, including giving students greater access to mental health care.

The taskforce proposes an outreach program for citizens, students and staff to reduce the stigma of mental illness and encourage early interaction with struggling students. The draft recommends expanded social and emotional learning programs to foster a positive school climate.

We’re trying to expand things like mental health first-aid, particularly for youth, said Mourning Fox, co-chair of the taskforce. That way, peers can identify and support someone who may be having a mental health struggle at that time.

The recommendations also include replacing the current requirement for lockdown drills with an “options based response drill” that would include additional means of dealing with a violent intruder. Schools would be provided “talking points” for students aimed at reducing the possible trauma of lockdowns and other safety drills.

The taskforce is also recommending that every school district in Vermont have the resources to monitor of public social media activities to help head off possible threats. That initiative would require funding from the state to hire a social media monitoring company.

The proposals include ramping up the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something Say Something” campaign with public service announcements and training programs. 

The taskforce is made up of medical professionals, educators, law enforcement, lawyers and lawmakers. Co-chair Dan Barkhuff said despite the wide range of backgrounds, the taskforce was able to find common ground on many issues.

I was surprised at how much consensus there actually is, Barkhuff said. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that both Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, everyone can agree on.

“These are things that are common sense, we just haven’t done them because this hasn’t been a problem in Vermont before.

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