As Lawmakers Debate Gun Bills, 2 Southern Vermont Schools Confront Safety

Mar 30, 2018

It was a busy morning in Windham County, as two communities tackled the issue of guns in schools.

Ever since a Poultney teenager was arrested for plotting to carry out a massacre at his high school, the issue of school safety has hit home for a lot of Vermonters.

As recently as Friday morning the Putney Central School Board held an emergency meeting after someone was found with a gun on school property.

Meanwhile, just a dozen miles down the road Brattleboro Union High School students held a rally in support of gun rights in front of the school.

Putney Central School

It was an otherwise normal morning at Putney Central School as the buses unloaded and lines of elementary school kids made their way into the building.But behind closed doors in the school's conference room, the Putney School Board was starting an emergency meeting.

The 7:30 a.m. meeting was called to get an update from principal Herve Pelletier about Vermont’s most recent brush with guns, gun rights and school security.

“We came to school on Tuesday and discovered some graffiti," Pelletier told the board. "And it said, written in large black letters, ‘I support the Second Amendment.’ We were particularly concerned about it because we believe that he may have had a sidearm on him when he was here on campus.”

Video surveillance recording shows the man Pelletier is referring to, who was on school grounds with his child playing on the playground, with what looks like a gun in a holster.

Police interviewed the man, and after determining that he had no plan to use the gun he was cited for vandalism and issued a no trespassing order.

But Pelletier still wanted to know what the law says about carrying guns on school grounds.

“There’s some tricky language in there,” he said. “You’re not supposed to have a weapon on school grounds with the intent to injure another person. And as a school administrator, I’m not really sure how one determines that.”

The law says you can’t carry a gun into a school, but you are allowed to carry one on school grounds if you don’t intend to use it.

But as Pelletier later explained during the Tuesday meeting, if you don’t make that determination in time, it might be too late.

Putney Rep. Michael Mrowicki says that might be one more Vermont gun law to re-visit.

“We have in the works an amendment to a gun bill that’s going to be on the floor of the Senate next week, Mrowicki said Friday. "We’re going to remove that clause and make it clear, especially in light of what’s happening right now, we don’t want guns on school properties or in schools. It’s just too delicate of a situation. And parents need to feel the kids are safe, and kids need to feel safe, and teachers need to feel safe, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

But it’s tricky. It’s pretty standard for a parent to drop off a student on the way to do some deer hunting.

The Putney board members talked about adopting a policy of their own, but they made it clear that they’d be talking to a lawyer first to make sure they’re not violating the Constitution.

Brattleboro Union High School

And just down the road, while the meeting was wrapping up in Putney, at Brattleboro Union High School a group of students gathered to support gun rights.

There was a warm mist in the air as a couple-dozen high school students held “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and signs that support gun rights.

Thomas Drummey is a junior at BUHS. After the rally broke up, Drummey began to make his way toward first period.

He stopped to talk about why the kids wanted to gather and make a statement while the Legislature moved ahead on passing sweeping changes to Vermont’s gun laws.

“We’re just a bunch of students who felt we needed to get our voice out,” he said. “I think many of the students, and many students in general, are kind of viewed as being anti-gun. And we felt that we didn’t have a voice, and we just wanted to get our presence known.”

More and more schools are becoming ground zero for weighing the rights of Americans to bear arms against better ways to protect students and teachers.  

And that’s what happened in Windham County Friday morning, before the students even started their school day.