February 5, 2023
A Vermont anti-bullying group has been assembly for a decade. What has it achieved?
A Vermont anti-bullying group has been assembly for a decade. What has it achieved?
College students get onto a bus at Crossett Brook Center Faculty in Duxbury on Sept. 16. Photograph by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A decade in the past, Vermont lawmakers created a gaggle to deal with bullying in colleges. 

The Harassment, Hazing, and Bullying Prevention Advisory Council consisted of state schooling officers, college administration and workers from the Vermont Human Rights Fee. It was meant to “assessment and coordinate college and statewide actions referring to the prevention of and response to harassment, hazing and bullying,” based on state legislation.  

However for a lot of the previous yr, the council’s conferences have been spent wrangling over a set of existential questions: Is the group truly doing any good? And if not, ought to it live on?

At a Sept. 26 assembly, Henri Sparks, the Burlington Faculty District’s fairness director and the advisory group’s chair, put it bluntly.

“I’ve critical issues that we aren’t actually, and have probably not, finished an entire lot to maintain youngsters secure from hazing, harassment, bullying,” Sparks stated. These issues, he stated, had been a “query and a remark that’s been happening for years with this group.”

The advisory council dates again to 2012, when lawmakers wrote the group into statute as a part of a slate of miscellaneous modifications to schooling legal guidelines. 

In a press launch saying its inception, Vermont’s then-Commissioner of Schooling Armando Vilaseca stated the objective was to “present extra assets and assist to varsities as they handle problems with harassment, hazing, and/or bullying.”

“I’m assured the advisory council will be capable of assist colleges on this method,” Vilaseca stated. 

A recurring query

By legislation, the advisory council should embrace illustration from state teams of principals, superintendents, college boards and the lecturers union, in addition to a present scholar. The council is meant to current an annual report back to the state Board of Schooling and legislative committees on schooling.

However no college students at present serve on the council, based on its web site, and it’s not clear what number of studies it has produced throughout its existence. VTDigger might find solely three available studies on-line.

These studies observe that the group supplied enter on a mannequin college coverage on hazing, harassment and bullying; helped make on-line assets extra accessible; and facilitated anti-bullying coaching for bus drivers. All three of these studies observe that the council “is making no formal legislative suggestions presently.”

It’s not clear whether or not the group has made such formal suggestions elsewhere. However council members have repeatedly puzzled whether or not they’re doing sufficient to guard youngsters. 

Curtiss Reed Jr. File picture by Randy Holhut/Commons Newspaper

“We want this paradigm shift in direction of college students and households,” Curtiss Reed Jr., a council member and fairness guide, stated on the group’s Sept. 26 assembly. “Proper now the entrenched pursuits actually deal with college directors and the tutorial institution.”

“This isn’t a topic that’s new to the council,” Reed added, however comes up “not less than every year for — how lengthy have we been assembly, for a decade now?” 

Different members on the assembly mentioned how the group ought to change — and even whether or not it must be disbanded.

“We’ve been saying for a few years now that this council does nothing, that one thing has to alter,” stated Amanda Garcés, an official on the Human Rights Fee who sits on the council.

“If this group is to proceed, we have now to actually work out amongst ourselves — how will we begin to make suggestions?” stated Sparks, the group’s chair. “As a result of we are able to’t say a whole lot of suggestions have been made that weren’t adopted. We haven’t given an entire lot.”

Neither Sparks nor Reed could possibly be reached for remark. Garcés declined to remark. 

‘We owe our college students higher’ 

In September, Garcés shared a draft of a letter that she had written with the council and requested for suggestions. 

That letter was meant to create a proper document of the group’s shortcomings, Garcés stated on the assembly, in addition to doable options: “A number of the issues with what we’re seeing within the council, and a few of the background of what we’re speculated to do.”

Vermont Women's March
Amanda Garces. File picture by Anne Galloway/VTDigger

“In its ten years of operation, the council has finished little to mitigate bullying, hazing and harassment in colleges,” the letter reads, including, “In failing to satisfy its legislative intent, the HHB Advisory Council has maintained a system that’s higher at defending colleges from lawsuits than it’s at defending college students from harassment, hazing, and bullying.”

That letter urged the Company of Schooling to rent “not less than one” devoted staffer to deal with harassment and bullying, strengthen coaching and investigation procedures for varsity workers, and acquire higher information on situations of hazing, harassment and bullying. 

“We owe our college students higher,” the letter reads.

On the September assembly, Vermont Secretary of Schooling Dan French appeared to bristle on the implication that the group was weighted towards the tutorial institution. 

Group members have typically “didn’t ship on doing all of your work,” French stated.

“We’ve hassle getting agendas finished, we have now hassle (with) folks exhibiting as much as the conferences.” 

French additionally famous at a Nov. 28 assembly that the info cited within the letter drew from two totally different sources and didn’t current an “apples-to-apples comparability.” 

A spokesperson for the Company of Schooling didn’t reply to requests for remark. 

Dan French on Sept. 8, 2021. File picture by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Garcés acknowledged inconsistencies within the information, saying on the assembly that she was “not a knowledge analyst.”

Jay Nichols, the manager director of the Vermont Principals’ Affiliation, famous that many principals and directors are already swamped with paperwork round harassment and bullying incidents, and have little time to implement extra proactive measures.

“They really feel like there’s a whole lot of issues they may do which might be educationally, pedagogically a lot better,” Nichols stated. “However they’re probably not feeling like they’re able to do (them).”

In the end, the council agreed to an in-person assembly in January with a facilitator to debate a set of formal suggestions to state officers.

‘Some good work’

In interviews with VTDigger, different members of the advisory council stated that the group has had measurable achievements, nevertheless it could possibly be improved. 

Jeff Fannon, the manager director of the Vermont chapter of the Nationwide Schooling Affiliation, who has been on the advisory council since its inception, stated that the group has “finished some good work through the years.”

Council members performed a listening tour of faculties in its early years, he stated, and he pointed to its work organizing anti-bullying coaching for varsity bus drivers. 

However the group “definitely could possibly be simpler,” he stated. 

Fannon stated he hopes that the upcoming in-person assembly will probably be extra productive than the almost three years of pandemic-era digital conferences. 

Jeff Francis
Jeff Francis. File picture by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Council members Sue Ceglowski, the manager director of the Vermont Faculty Boards Affiliation, and Jeff Francis, the manager director of the Vermont Superintendents Affiliation, agreed. 

“I agree that we could possibly be simpler, and that this in-person assembly goes to assist us get on that path,” Ceglowski stated. 

“I believe that an assertion or indication that the council shouldn’t be as efficient because it is perhaps shouldn’t be one thing that I might refute,” stated Francis, including that the council has “hit a degree in historical past the place we might study, like, what our cost is vis-a-vis what the necessity is.”

Nichols, of the Vermont Principals’ Affiliation, stated that because the departure of a former chair final yr, “there’s been a way of, form of, floundering.”

“We’d like to see hazing, harassment and bullying by no means happen in our colleges,” Nichols stated. “I believe each council member agrees on that. There could also be totally different opinions on the way you get there.”

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