Boards sign off on joint letter on school safety
by Lauren Harkawik
Mar 27, 2018 | 1654 views | 0 0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER - The Dover School Board and the Dover Selectboard signed a joint letter this week regarding school safety. The letter will be sent to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Rep. Peter Welch.

It was written by Josh Cohen, who is the chair of the Dover Selectboard but said he was making the request as a citizen. Cohen recused himself from the matter when the selectboard voted whether or not to sign the letter.

The letter as signed is an updated version of a letter Cohen read at pre-Town Meeting to some praise and then at Town Meeting to some criticism.

At Town Meeting, former Dover Selectboard chair Linda Kersten said she didn’t like the letter. “It’s a rant, it’s not constructive, and it doesn’t expect to get any legitimate answers,” said Kersten. “We have an obligation to direct our legislators. This does not direct.”

At Monday’s Dover School Board meeting, chair Rich Werner said he’d had an hourlong conversation with Kersten regarding the letter since Town Meeting, and that he agreed it could be more constructive. Board member Kerry McDonald Cady agreed, saying she did not like the second paragraph of Cohen’s letter, which read, in part:

“We do not make suggestions in this letter. We simply demand that you do something! Do not come home until you do.”

McDonald Cady said that if Cohen’s intention was to express anger, she thought the paragraph achieved it, but that she thought the letter could serve as a means to open a dialogue.

“If we’re looking for some thoughtful dialogue about the issue and our concerns, then it should be thoughtful in the process about what we’re looking for them to do,” said McDonald Cady. “For us to say we want our senators and our representative to solve this problem and don’t come home until it’s fixed, that’s not realistic. If we just rely on them to fix the problem, the problem isn’t going to be fixed. I think it’s a partnership between them and us, and I think locally it’s our response of what we’re going to do, what we’re looking for them to do, and what we need.”

Cohen said the comments were well-taken, and Werner offered his help in crafting a new draft of the letter. A new draft was presented at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting. It reads:

“We, the undersigned, being elected officials of the selectboard and school board for the town of Dover, Vermont, hereby publicly condemn the violence that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, as well as other acts of violence at our schools over the past several years.

“As representatives charged with educating our children and improving the quality of life for our citizens, we have invested a great deal of resources in our children, students, schools and staff. We understand that there are no simple solutions, but we do need help to provide the safe environment where our children can learn and our teachers can lead them in the learning process.

“The school board takes its job very seriously. There are federal and state mandates put upon it to ensure our children are learning. Added to that list over the past few years has been safety concerns due to school violence. There is only so much we can ask of our teachers and school staff to ensure our school remains a safe place. The parents and our citizens do what they can, but more is needed.

“We would be willing to sponsor a public information session where students, parents, staff and public could address our elected representatives about keeping our schools safer. We feel that it is important for you to hear the concerns that this community has for safer schools.”

At the conclusion of the school board meeting, rather than adjourning, the board suspended its meeting so it could reconvene the following night at the Dover Selectboard meeting, at which both the selectboard and school board voted to sign the updated version of the letter.
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