Education

Vermont schools endure a spate of violent threats

Hartford High School. Photo via Hartford High

Updated Dec. 9 at 2:57 p.m.

Three different schools across Vermont endured threats and fears of violence within the past seven days, roughly a week after a school shooting in Michigan left communities tense. 

After unidentified students at Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School threatened to bring firearms to school, many students reportedly did not show up for class on Friday, despite a heavy police presence. 

On Monday, some Hartford High School students also stayed home after a custodian reported a bomb threat on Friday, according to the Valley News

And on Wednesday, the Vermont State Police announced that they are looking into an alleged threat made by a student against Twinfield Union School.

This semester, schools have endured disruption, absences and an uptick in student misbehavior. But tensions in schools around the state have been especially high roughly a week after a shooting at a high school in Michigan left four students dead. 

“What I hear from superintendents and other educators is that we are dealing (with) a period of immense stress for everyone,” Jeffrey Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said in an interview. “That includes students, staff and community members. So it’s not surprising to me that, in some instances, it results in the kinds of incidents that arise in schools.”

Officials have logged 31 threats in Vermont schools so far this semester, according to data provided by Vermont State Police — a slight increase from past years. In the 2018-19 school year, officials recorded 55 such threats during the entirety of the year; in 2019-20, there were 53. (During the 2020-21 school year, which was largely held remotely, threats dropped by roughly half.)

If the rate of threats stays steady throughout the 2021-22 year, they stand to exceed those totals from previous years. 

“I definitely don’t think you could say there’s been a huge spike,” Michael Manley, a Vermont State Police captain and member of the state’s School Crisis Planning Team, said in an interview. 

But “in comparison to those years, right now it is slightly higher,” he said. 

At Mount Abraham Union in Bristol, Friday’s absences followed several days in which students had worn flags to school “as capes in support of a person, cause or movement,” according to Principal Shannon Warden.

Seven Days reported that some students wore flags in support of former President Donald Trump, pro-law enforcement flags and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, while other students wore Black Lives Matter flags and flags in support of LGBTQ+ people. 

Neither Warden nor the Mount Abraham district superintendent could be reached for comment.  

In a Dec. 2 Facebook post, Warden said she decided to ban the flags after the situation escalated into “two demonstrations (walking around chanting, cheering, yelling) that included inappropriate and disrespectful language, arguments between students, disrespect to peers and adults and a general feeling of tension, intimidation, and unrest.”  

But that decision failed to defuse the situation, she wrote. In response, “some students that we have been unable to identify expressed demonstrating their Second Amendment rights tomorrow by bringing a weapon to school,” Warren wrote. 

Those threats caused a number of absences, according to Seven Days. The school has implemented a heavy police presence on campus since then, and there have been no reports of violence. 

“We will not tolerate students engaging in uncivil discourse, showing disrespect to their peers based on their identity or beliefs, or gathering in large groups chanting things that are intimidating to others,” Warren wrote. “Consequences have been, and will continue to be assigned to students who cannot follow our schoolwide expectations.”

On Friday, a Hartford High School custodian discovered a bomb threat in a school bathroom, according to the Valley News, in which someone threatened to blow the school up on Monday. 

Police officials confirmed the building’s safety, and administrators excused students’ absences Monday. Hartford school administrators could not be reached by phone or email for comment. 

And in Plainfield, Vermont State Police announced on Wednesday that they were investigating an unspecified threat against the Twinfield school. 

Police do not believe there is an imminent danger to the school, according to Mark Tucker, superintendent of the Caledonia Central Supervisory Union. The Plainfield K-12 school was open and operating normally Wednesday with a visible police presence, officials said. 

The student in question is at home under parental supervision, Tucker said in a message Wednesday to Twinfield families, “and will not be in school for the foreseeable future as we work to better understand the situation.”

The exact nature of the threat is unclear, but Twinfield Principal Mark Mooney said in an email that the threat was “not specific to a person.”

No arrests have been made and there are no criminal charges, police said in a press release Wednesday. 

Manley, the state police captain, encouraged anyone aware of school threats to call the agency’s new tipline.  

Last week’s shooting in Michigan did not change the state’s processes for responding to school threats, he said. 

But “school administration officials, law enforcement, all the people that are involved in school safety are always (having) the conversation on making sure we’re up to date, and we’re using best practices for how to respond to school threats,” he said. 

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Peter D'Auria

About Peter

Peter D’Auria covers education for VTDigger. Prior to moving to Vermont, he worked for The Jersey Journal, The Chilkat Valley News and Willamette Week. He is originally from Portland, Oregon.

Email: [email protected]

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