A commissioned officer in Vermont's Thought Police has been logging overtime in Barre -- and it's earned him some unwanted media attention. On April 9, Barre Town Police Officer John Mott paid a late-night visit to Spalding High School in Barre and convinced a custodian to unlock a classroom so he could snap some photographs of student work he found objectionable. Mott, a military veteran, said he'd heard about the projects during a school board meeting two days earlier. Several parents had complained that their kids' history teacher, Tom Treece, was indoctrinating students with anti-American propaganda. Although Mott was in uniform when he went into the school, he claimed he was on a break and used his own camera and film. He was not there investigating a crime.
Among the photographed student projects was a poster of President Bush with duct tape over his mouth above the words, "Put your duct tape to good use: Shut me up!" Another was a papier-mâche combat boot, with an American flag inside, stomping on a doll. Other "propaganda" included bumper stickers reading: "Impeach Bush," "Vermonters for a Bush/Cheney Regime Change," "Goddess Bless the World" and "God Bless Our Troops."
In a letter to Barre Town Police Chief Michael Stevens, school Superintendent Dorothy Anderson expressed concern about the nature and timing of Mott's visit. "I find this behavior, at the very least, in violation of our policy for visitors at the school," wrote Anderson. "I also find it disturbing that a police officer would wear his uniform under such circumstances, thereby intimidating our employee into letting him in the building at a very unusual hour."
A spokesperson for the Barre Town Police Department told Seven Days that Chief Stevens is not commenting on the incident, calling it an internal personnel matter. Nor could she say what's been done with the photos.
The story, first reported by the Times-Argus and the Associated Press, gained national attention when conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh spent more than an hour last week taking comments from his listeners on the subject. After 70 minutes, Limbaugh noted that most of the emails and calls he received focused on the cop, not the teacher. "If we really cared about education, 90 percent of the garbage going on inside the classroom wouldn't be permitted," Limbaugh writes on his Web site. "A police officer -- who from this story doesn't seem to have kids in school, much less in Treece's class -- wouldn't have to enter through the service door and then ask a janitor to unlock the classroom for him. The parents would have expressed their outrage; instead, there wasn't a peep."
What an outrage, teaching kids about free speech. Didn't the USA Patriot Act outlaw such nonsense?
President Bush says he wants no child left behind. No child left supervised is more like it.
Under the president's current budget proposal, more than half a million schoolchildren nationwide would lose access to their after-school programs. The White House has proposed gutting more than $400 million -- 40 percent of the budget -- from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Program. The program was launched in 1994 after Sen. Jim Jeffords visited Burlington's H.O. Wheeler School and realized school buildings and other facilities could also be used as community centers. Vermont stands to lose more than $2 million, affecting 2902 kids in about 40 different after-school sites, according to figures released last week by the nonprofit group Afterschool Alliance.
Emanuel Betz is project director of the Burlington Community Schools Project, whose funding would be cut in half. The project offers about 500 different after-school programs, ranging from photography to creative writing to martial arts. Many are free and take advantage of the wide range of talents found in the Burlington area. "The idea being, there may be a PE teacher in the schools, but there's not a national-level Taekwondo instructor from Korea, so we use one," he says. Of the 2400 kids who participated in Burlington's after-school programs last year, more than half were from low-income families.
Betz claims the administration justifies the cuts based on "suspect research" which purportedly shows the CCLC Program had little or no impact in its first year. "The problem with these federal programs is that people are impatient. They want to see results right away," Betz asserts. "To do the research justice, you probably need 10 years before you can really evaluate a program."
In fact, says Betz, local results have been more encouraging. Burlington school kids who participated in after-school programs were far more likely to attend class than those who didn't. And participants in Burlington after-school programs have a 23 percent better attendance record than non-participants -- kids in the after-school program at Wheeler attended almost a week more of school than those who didn't. "Anecdotally, kids are excited about after-school programs," says Betz. "They want to come. It's logical."
Burlington's after-school programs cost taxpayers slightly more than $13 an hour per child. While that's a bit pricier than the average babysitter, it's definitely a bargain compared to the cost of juvenile detention.