Downtown “mall school” deals with community gun violence


Sofia Wells

The school’s move to the downtown Mall location creates safety concerns.

Sofia Wells, Staff Writer

There have been 64 gunfire incidents in Burlington since 2012. 23 have happened since January of last year. Four of them were homicides – some involving past students from BHS. 

“I’m concerned about the violence in the community,” Superintendent Tom Flanagan said. “So that has me thinking a lot about what we need to do as a school team [to] make sure that we’re really [doing] the best job we can to set our students up for success after school.” 

In 2021, BHS was forced to move into a remodeled Macy’s store after toxic chemicals known as PCBs were found during renovations of the old school. BHS’s new downtown location has created safety concerns that are still being figured out.

“I walk to school every morning,” Taylor McCaffry ‘23 said. “There are some dicey areas that I walk through to get here, but inside the school…for the most part, I do feel safe.” 

Dean of Students LeVar Barrino believes that the staff and teachers at BHS have done an “awesome” job at creating a safe and welcoming environment. 

“People deserve to be safe,” Barrino said. “This is the education place that provides safety so people are able to learn. Since I’ve been here [at BHS], I’ve seen the harm caused in school go down. I’ve seen the harm caused outside of school go way up.”

On December 1 2022, clinical social workers from the Howard center met with high school students from around the district to discuss the increasing gun violence in Burlington. Amanda Moore, a licensed clinical social worker from the Howard Center School Services Program took part in the Google Meet. 

“[The data] is pretty alarming,” Moore said. “We want to reassure the community about school safety and [that] we’re thinking about school safety.” 

The Burlington School District adopted a strategy in 2021 called “See Something, Say Something.” Designed by the Vermont Intelligence Center, the program teaches students how to respond to and report possible threats that students encounter on social media, over text or that they hear in person. 

“It’s a simple way to report any suspicious or unusual behavior,” Hazing, Harassment and Bullying Coordinator in Burlington schools Teresa Giallorenzo said.

Moore agrees. 

“I remember a student saying to me…the worst thing is to just not say anything, or just sweep it under the rug,” Moore said. “So we always want to make space for students to talk about their feelings.” 

Another protocol put in place in 2019 was ‘Run Hide Fight’. It’s a system for active shooter situations that gives teachers the ability to make the decision whether it is best for them and their students to flee the building, shelter in place or actively fight back.

Barrino explains that protocols had to be modified when BHS transferred to the downtown location due to the structure of the school. The walls that dtBHS has are easy for bullets to penetrate, and there were not doors on every classroom. 

However this year, everyone has a door. In addition, the school has implemented a system to check student IDs.

“Before we had IDs, I had 28 people come into the school, some adults, some college kids because they look like students,” Barrino said. “It [checking IDs] just reassures [everyone] that the kids coming into our buildings are our students.” 

In correlation with student IDs, security guard Troy Austin was hired to monitor who comes in and out of the building. While most students say they like Austin on a personal level, some students have mixed feelings about the new ID system as a whole. 

“I think it’s a little bit too restricting because people have to pay money to buy new ones,” Jessie Tornabe ‘26 said. “I don’t think that’s fair, but I like the idea that people who aren’t actually students here can’t get in.” 

Barrino also says that BHS has a Safety Team that meets monthly and a Student Support Team that meets weekly and they are both constantly brainstorming to find the best practices and solutions to increase student safety.  

“Outside of school after hours when [students] don’t have any adult connections, [when] we don’t get to see these kids, that’s when that harm is happening,” Barrino said. “And then it comes back into school.”

BHS teacher and Burlington Education Association President Beth Fialko agrees that one of the biggest threats to student safety is home life. She says that many students experience neglect, violence and abuse at home which can lead to violent behavior online and over social media. 

“For too many of our students, dtBHS is their safe place,” said Fialko. “[Violence involving former students] is sad and avoidable.”