Kids Grill Vermont Candidates on School Safety

A forum for candidates for statewide office saw seventh and eighth graders asking mature questions of adults

Candidates for statewide office in Vermont took tough questions about their policies Friday—not from reporters or voters—but rather, from kids.

The Williston Central School hosted a forum with seventh and eighth graders asking a wide range of questions, including on opioid addiction, homelessness, the minimum wage, and climate change.

Two questions posed by kids focused on school safety.

“There’s been more school shootings than ever,” eighth-grader Ananya Rohatgi said of one of the reasons she wanted to ask a question pertaining to gun policy.

That topic’s been emotional this year in Vermont after Vermont State Police said they and law enforcement partners thwarted a planned school massacre in Rutland County. The case in Fair Haven spurred action from the state’s Republican governor and Democrat-controlled Legislature.

“This is not the time to do what’s easy, it’s the time to do what’s right,” Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said in April when authorizing a package of new laws that includes limits on magazine capacity, more background checks, and a minimum age of 21 for most gun purchases.

One Williston student Friday pressed Christine Hallquist, the Democrat running for Vermont governor, on what more could be done.

Hallquist praised Gov. Scott for authorizing what she called “common-sense gun reforms.”

“The most important thing I would focus on is creating emotional safety in schools,” Hallquist said in response to a question asked by Kennedy Desautels, a seventh grader.

“I want to be able to go to school and not have to think about guns or anything,” Desautels told necn, describing why the topic was important to bring up at the candidate forum. “I want to go to school and just think about getting a good education.”

Another question pertaining to gun policy and public safety was addressed to Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, who has said he supports a federal ban on certain powerful firearms.

“Should we have assault weapons, which are used on the battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq freely available?” Welch said in response to the question from the middle schoolers. “I don’t think so.”

Welch’s Republican challenger was not asked by the kids about her stance, but Anya Tynio has addressed the issue before.

On her website, Tynio wrote, “The Second Amendment is essential to defending all of our rights and is the basis of personal security. We must question the true motivation of politicians that wish to defy the Bill of Rights as it is written.”

“I think I got the answer I was looking for,” eighth-grader Ananya Rohatgi said of the question she posed to Congressman Welch. “Of course it’s a scary topic. But it’s also a real one. We kind of have to bring it [to the candidates], because [school shootings are] still happening.”

They may not be voters yet, but the Williston kids hope their concerns are heard by candidates.

“‘The kids are thinking about it, and so should we,’ is probably what’s going through their mind,” Desautels said of how she hopes the youth forum reached the candidates.

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