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Violence, fear at Vt. elementary school as kids in crisis disrupt classes

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 6:04 PM EDT
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BRISTOL, Vt. (WCAX) - Bristol Elementary School students and staff say their school is in a state of unrest and many fear for their safety. They say kids in crisis aren’t getting the proper care to keep their behavior under control.

Teachers told me safety concerns came to a head last Thursday and Friday. I talked with one mom who says her first-grader witnessed the chaos.

“He had gotten into the car and kind of looked distraught and I was like, you know, “How was your day, buddy?’ And he was like, ‘I almost witnessed a murder,’” said Megan Vaughan, a Bristol Elementary School parent.

When Vaughan heard her 6-year-old son say something so drastic, she knew the situation probably wasn’t that severe but something serious had definitely happened.

Later that night he told his mom more details. Vaughan says her son saw his friend get pinned behind a table, unable to breathe.

“Their classroom had been destroyed and that they were evacuated to another classroom and then into lockdown,” Vaughan said.

Bristol Elementary School teachers say last Thursday, two classrooms were forced to relocate to other workspaces while a student was in crisis. A first-grade classroom sustained significant damage.

The next day, the school underwent at least seven “secure the hallway” procedures, which call for all students and staff to remain in their classrooms while another student is being helped. The teachers union, Mount Abraham Education Association, cites in a letter to the district that some staff members were also injured.

“Kids were definitely scared and staff members were scared and concerned,” said Andrea Murnane, a second-grade teacher at Bristol Elementary.

Murnane is among a group of educators pleading with the Mount Abraham Union School District to implement new policies that will keep children safe when another student loses control.

Tuesday night, Murnane and other BES teachers stood before the school board detailing the dangers and damage to the building over the past couple of weeks.

Murnane read a statement reading in part, “Our school has become a place of unrest when it should be a safe haven.”

They want the district to adopt strategies to mitigate risk to students and staff, including but not limited to removing students from the building who endanger others or themselves, providing one-on-one behavioral support to those kids in crisis, and hiring a mental health professional to train staff for those situations.

“I feel like we could be doing more to support the them, and I feel like we could be doing more to support the kids who are in the classroom,” Murnane said.

The first-grade teacher whose classroom was destroyed described the details of her ordeal Thursday, “My students were crying and screaming and kids were hiding under tables in my classroom library.”

Vaughan says her son has become desensitized to the violence because injuries to staff and students at school occur so frequently.

“Kind of makes you feel sick to your stomach a little bit because this is not normal,” she said.

Superintendent Patrick Reen says he’s bringing together a team to address the issue.

He tells me that team is meeting Thursday and will be collaborating with local mental health services to come up with solutions.

He acknowledges the current structure clearly isn’t working.

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