Parents of students at Waterville Elementary School recently raffled off four guns to raise money for a field trip for sixth graders, a fundraiser administrators condemned as soon as they found out about it.
The raffle and the administrative reaction to it has revealed the separation between common attitudes toward guns in this small, tight-knit community with a strong hunting tradition and the sensitivity school administrators must exercise in a country rife with school-centered gun violence.
An informal group of parents acquired four guns of unknown make — M & R Guns and Ammo, the hunting supply store in Highgate Center that donated the guns, declined to provide this information — and raffled them to raise money to benefit sixth graders at the school.
Waterville Elementary School has a current total enrollment of 66 students.
It’s unclear how much money parents raised, and it’s also not known if the parents verified the age of or performed a background check on the raffle winners.
Brandi Broe, a Waterville parent who helped organize the raffle, declined to comment or provide any further details.
The raffle gained wider attention when the News & Citizen’s Waterville community columnist included information about the raffle and its winners in her weekly writeup, identifying “Waterville six graders” as the group raffling off the tickets when it was actually parents of children who attended the school who held the fundraiser.
In this week’s column, Susan Davis clarified the school’s and district’s lack of knowledge or involvement in the raffle, but also articulated why she reported a gun raffle like just another piece of commonplace news.
“Seeing that we live in deer hunting country it makes sense to want to raffle off hunting rifles during the deer hunting season,” she said. “It made a good fundraiser. I’m sure if any of the parents thought that this raffle would create a safety issue for the children or teachers at the school, they wouldn’t have had it.”
For reasons obvious to school administrators and many outside observers, the Lamoille North school district can’t allow an association between firearms and their schools.
The raffle was held just weeks after a school shooting in Oxford, Mich., left three dead and injured eight others.
In Vermont, a gun threat also kept students home from Mount Abraham Union Middle and High School in Addison County earlier this month.
“It’s super important, especially in this day and age. We obviously don’t want schools associated with anything that involves a weapon,” Lamoille North Superintendent Catherine Gallagher said.
Raffles have long been held in Waterville to help pay for the yearly sixth grade field trip, often involving the sale of meat or other donated items.
Jan Epstein, principal at Waterville Elementary since 2016, sent an email to the school’s parents earlier this week after learning about the gun raffle and acknowledged these raffles are always “a group of private citizens doing something for their children.”
“It is incredibly upsetting that somehow this became connected to the school,” her email said. “Safety of all is of the utmost importance to me and never would I condone a raffle that involved a gun or anything that might remotely be construed as a safety risk.”
While last week’s newspaper also reported that the same parents hoped to hold another gun raffle in the spring, in an email Epstein urged them not to do so.
“Now that I have been made aware of this, I did send the families a letter, and I suggested strongly that they not ever do any kind of fundraiser that might have any safety concerns surrounding it for any reason,” she said. “They are a group of private citizens, but that was my strong recommendation. So, I’m very much hoping that they will not move forward with that in the spring.”
Epstein recognized that the parents did not hold the raffle with any dangerous intention, but as an administrator she simply couldn’t condone or support the fundraiser. She acknowledged that, if she stepped out of her administrative role for a moment, she could see how parents in this small Vermont community with its strong hunting tradition only meant well.
“If I put on my different hat, if I take off my administrator hat and I put on my ‘I was born and raised in Vermont hat,’ then yes, I could see that,” she said.