By Guy Page
A House committee has added anti-harassment protections for students to a Senate bill that covers only housing and employment harassment. This last-minute addition has gotten the attention of the state’s educational establishment.
But the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network (VSARN), a student advocacy group, says the same anti-harassment protections afforded to teachers should apply to students.
“Imagine this: a teacher and a student both experience harassment from their principal,” VSARN spokesperson Addie Lentzner, 18, of Bennington, said. “Under the current harassment standards, only the teacher would be able to file a claim on this. The student would not be able to. We believe this is an injustice.
“An argument voiced by legislators and others is that education officials and schools do not have the capacity to deal with the harassment complaints being heard,” Lentzner said. “We understand the many demands that are put on educators and staff members by their schools, but allowing students to pursue harassment claims is vital to our mental and physical health. If schools are for students, then they are worth our safety.”
Last week, the House Housing and General Committee voted 10-1 to add to S.103 a lengthy, detailed section outlining anti-harassment protections specifically against students. The Senate bill reduced the burden of proof necessary to demonstrate harassment in rental housing and on the job – including, of course, teachers.
But the bill did nothing to protect students from harassment – until the House General amendment. S103 with the amendment is listed on the House Calendar under New Business – Favorable, With Amendment.
S.103 also appears on the House Education Committee schedule for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On Tuesday, the committee will get an update from two members of House General, Rep. Saudia LaMont (D-Morristown) and Rep. Elizabeth Burrows (D-Windsor, also a former school board chair).
The likely topic of discussion: what’s this new student harassment language all about? And why is this your committee’s business, and not ours?
Wednesday and Thursday, the state’s education establishment will descend upon House Education. Scheduled to testify are:
- Heather Lynn, Attorney, Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust
- Timothy Newbold, Head of School, Village School of North Bennington
- Jeff Fannon, Executive Director, Vermont National Education Association
- Emily Simmons, General Counsel, Agency of Education.
Vermont Human Rights Commission chair Bor Yang also is scheduled to testify. A proposed Education Committee amendment of the Housing amendment is not unlikely, provided House leadership allows it before the bill receives Second Reading (preliminary approval) and Third Reading (final approval).
Last week’s amendment was at least the second time Housing and General intruded on another committee’s turf while addressing an issue under its purview. Several members sought to amend S.100’s Act 250 housing exemption statewide from 10 to 25 units, only to be told by chair Tom Stevens and House leadership that Act 250 oversight belongs to Chair Amy Sheldon’s Environment and Energy Committee. That committee is scheduled to vote this morning on S.100 – at this point, keeping the cap at 10.
Ms. Lentzner’s press release on behalf of VSARN can be read in today’s Vermont Daily Chronicle.