Ripton Votes to Return to Addison Central School District | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Ripton Votes to Return to Addison Central School District


Published September 29, 2022 at 9:45 p.m.

PE class at Ripton Elementary School - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • PE class at Ripton Elementary School

Ripton residents voted resoundingly on Thursday to return to the Addison Central School District, nearly two years after residents voted to leave the district in an effort to save their elementary school.

Despite the 148-89 vote, t
he tiny school's fate remains unclear. Thursday's vote was just the latest chapter in the town's battle with the State Board of Education and is emblematic of the debate surrounding the future of small schools in the wake of the 2015 school-merger law known as Act 46.

Molly Witters, one of five members of the Ripton School District Board, was conflicted over what decision she would make, but she ultimately voted to rejoin the Addison Central School District.

“We stand at a crossroads where I don’t want our belief in justice and self-determination to get in the way of community and kids,” she said in a letter to friends who asked her opinion on the issue. “Our community is Ripton and Addison County.”

In 2021, Ripton voted to secede from Addison Central in an effort to protect itself from near-certain closure by the district. But no neighboring supervisory union was open to having Ripton join them. In January, the State Board of Education made an unprecedented — and highly contested — move, designating Ripton as its own supervisory district.

But after reviewing Ripton's plans, the State Board voted unanimously that there was an "overwhelming risk" if Ripton assumed full responsibility for educating its students. That led the state legislature to pass a law that would allow Ripton to vote to undo its decision to secede and rejoin Addison Central.

Residents faced two less than ideal choices this Thursday: They could either vote yes and return to a district that once appeared poised to shutter their school — or vote no, potentially paving the way for a lengthy legal fight over whether the town, with 739 residents, is too small to serve as its own supervisory school district, as the state claims.

Whether or not Addison Central School District will make changes to its policy surrounding school closures, thus ensuring Ripton Elementary can stay open, remains uncertain. Because of that, Ripton board member Wendy Harlin said she’s not happy with the outcome.

“I feel like we’ve disincentivized Addison Central School District from making any changes to the charter,” Harlin said after the vote.

She thinks the result could have repercussions for other small schools, including nearby Lincoln, which is going through a similar process.

Said Harling: “I feel like it’s a loss for rural towns across Vermont."