By Rob Roper
There has been a reported uptick in bad behavior in Vermont’s public schools, highlighted this past week by incidents in Bristol, where a second-grader in the local elementary school destroyed a classroom. If you see the pictures, it is difficult to believe a 7-year-old could be capable of inflicting this kind of damage. And, according to multiple reports, this is not an isolated incident.
The Addison Independent printed a two-page long, bullet-pointed list of the property damage done, the mental and physical injuries to students and teachers, and the significant disruptions to the learning process: “Staff members have been bitten, spit on, kicked, punched, urinated on, hit by thrown objects, etc. They have also been verbally threatened by students. Some have had to lock themselves into a room in order to be safe.”
A story from WCAX details how a 6-year-old describe his day at school as, “I almost witnessed a murder,” and recounted to his mom how he saw an out-of-control student pin his friend behind a table to the point where the child could not breathe.
First, no child of any age should be forced by law to enter an environment where they do not feel safe — and apparently are not safe — on a daily basis, with no alternative unless their parents are wealthy enough to buy their way out of the system. Every parent deserves the right to say this is not right for my child, I am removing them from this toxic environment today, and the public resources provided by the taxpayers for the education of my child will follow my child to a functional learning environment.
Second, who thinks for a minute the children causing this damage are getting the care they need by being dropped off at the public school every morning? Clearly, they are not being well served either. It is not insensitive or discriminatory to point out the obvious fact that these kids need to be somewhere else, both for their own benefit and the benefit of the students and teachers being terrorized by their presence.
Administrators blame the rise in violent and antisocial behavior on the Covid lockdowns. A Bristol school board member was quoted in a Seven Days article, “The ongoing pandemic has impacted us in many ways, but it has disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable community members.” I’m sure there is truth in this. But, I’m also sure some of this disproportionate damage could have been avoided if we allowed parents to take their share of education dollars and use it to find some enriching opportunities for their children to participate in during the pandemic. Instead, we poured hundreds of millions of dollars into schools that weren’t open. This is the result of that decision.
Public schools operate on the myth that they can and do serve everyone. They can’t and they don’t. Nobody can. Certainly not in the same building. A school set up to meet the needs of a kid prone to outbursts that involve room vandalism on a scale that would astonish Keith Moon, and behavior that reportedly includes “slamming and kicking the door, yelling at [the teacher] to ‘open the f’ing door. Open the door, you f’ing b,’” while fellow students “were crying and screaming, and students were hiding under tables,” is not going to successfully meet the needs of the child who shows a quiet and diligent interest in learning fractions and grammar. Nor vice versa. It’s not fair to either to continue pretending otherwise.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.