Our schools should be places to find knowledge and belonging, without fear of censorship, discrimination, or police interference. As part of the Education Justice Coalition of Vermont, we are supporting initiatives to implement a more inclusive school curriculum, end racist and identity-based harassment and bullying, and remove armed cops from Vermont schools. Below are some of the issues we're working on in 2023.
Our students are not threats
Children need our support – they shouldn't be treated as potential threats to be monitored and investigated. Yet rather than providing our schools the resources they need to support the mental health, safety, and well-being of all students, the Scott administration wants to require "behavioral threat assessment teams" in all Vermont school districts.
In March 2023, we joined the Vermont Police Out of Schools Coalition in opposition to this proposal. Find the coalition's statement here. "Behavioral threat assessment teams" would include law enforcement officials charged with assessing, monitoring, and investigating students of any age for things like "unusual or bizarre communications or behavior" – with no due process or privacy protections or other guidelines in place.
Thankfully, the Senate Education Committee heard our concerns and rejected mandatory threat assessment teams in the proposed legislation. Instead, it supported legislation requiring schools that use threat assessment teams to conduct bias trainings and collect data to help identify discriminatory impacts. This is an improvement on the status quo, and we are grateful to the Senators who supported it. Learn more here.
Public dollars for public schools
Vermont has a longstanding commitment to providing quality public education to all, regardless of geography or status. Last year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court jeopardized those values, and put our state—and our students—in a difficult position. Given Vermont’s many small towns and rural areas, our education system has long relied on private schools to educate students living in places not served by public institutions, or “school choice towns.”
For years, the State has paid public tuition to those independent schools, while trying to maintain appropriate safeguards. In Carson v. Makin (2022), the Supreme Court ruled that where states provide funding to private schools, they can no longer exclude religious schools from receiving public dollars. Carson marks a major shift—specifically, the First Amendment’s balancing of the right to religious expression on the one hand, and the right to be free from government establishment of religion on the other.
Notwithstanding the challenges created by the Carson decision, Vermont can and must do more to support our public education system so that all students receive a quality education regardless of who they are or where they live.
Numerous bills related to the town tuition program, including H.258, are currently under consideration by the House Education Committee. The ACLU has been providing comments to guide the committee, detailing how Vermont can both comply with the radically shifting Supreme Court precedent while upholding our commitment to a public education system that is well-funded, equitable, and serves all students. Find recent testimony here.