Education

State officials, educators and law enforcement tackle school safety at governor’s conference

Gov. Phil Scott and other state officials answered questions during a press briefing at the Governor’s School Safety Conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Photo by Auditi Guha/VTDigger

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Emergency preparedness, behavioral threat assessment and responding to active threats were all up for discussion at Wednesday’s daylong Governor’s School Safety Conference.

“It’s about finding and assessing the risks involved,” Gov. Phil Scott said during a press briefing between sessions at the DoubleTree conference center in South Burlington.

Scott described the event, which was closed to members of the media, as a “fascinating conversation” and opportunity for collaboration among educators, administrators, and public safety and state officials. “It’s all of us working together, pulling in the same direction so that we can identify the problems before they blossom.”

Sponsored by the Vermont School Safety Center, which is a collaboration between the Agency of Education and Department of Public Safety, the annual conference comes after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Established in 2016, the center looks to enhance the emergency preparedness in K-12 schools and to share tools and best practices.

Hosted by the Agency of Education, this year’s conference was free for the first time since its inception about a decade ago. About 350 people registered for the event, according to Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the Agency of Education.

Fisher said the event was closed to the media in order to support inclusive learning and encourage candid dialogue. State officials held a brief Q&A for reporters in between sessions.

The conference brought together school and district leaders, educators, community members, school mental health professionals, emergency services professionals and law enforcement to share experiences and learn about protecting the physical safety of students, staff and schools. It also focused on tackling the mental health impacts of crises at home and around the country.

The keynote speaker, threat assessment expert and author Marisa Randazzo, discussed the history of active shooter incidents and tools that can mitigate the risks, according to the event agenda.

Breakout sessions addressed topics such as opportunities and challenges when building a behavioral threat assessment and management team, and collaborating with the Department for Children and Families when managing students of concern.

Officials said they expected the event to serve mainly as a learning experience but that discussions could, down the road, lead to increased regulatory oversight of school safety.

“I think we’re on a trajectory to get more intentional,” Secretary of Education Dan French said. “One of the things we’re contemplating at the agency and in our partnership with other agencies is how to strengthen the regulatory and the statutory framework in school safety.”

While the national focus has been on school violence and students’ mental health, Wednesday’s event also included discussions about emergency planning for fires, chemical spills and environmental problems. “So it’s an all-hazards approach,” said Erica Bornemann, director of Vermont Emergency Management.

French said the conversation around school security has expanded beyond just the safety of school buildings.

“Fifteen years ago, that was where we started this journey, really making sure that the physical aspect of buildings was more secure,” he said. “And now you are seeing an evolution to get into issues of the social and emotional aspects of threat assessment. It’s a comprehensive understanding.”

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Auditi Guha

About Auditi

Auditi is Chittenden County editor at VTDigger. Originally from Calcutta, India, she graduated from Emerson College with an MA in journalism. She has worked as an editor and reporter for several newspapers, and in various beats. Most recently, she covered race and justice at Rewire.News, and higher education at the New Bedford Standard-Times. She previously worked at several Massachusetts newsrooms. She is a mentor for young reporters through the Report For America program, founded the Boston chapter of the South Asian Journalists Association, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: aguha@vtdigger.org

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