School Zero Tolerance Policy Costs Vermont Taxpayers $83,750

A mother was banned from her child's school based on one frustrated comment.


Jessica Gale/Morgue File

The taxpayers of Barre Town, Vermont, just spent $83,750 settling a lawsuit that should never have happened. The money is going to one mother who was banned from her child's school last year. Her offense? An off-handed comment she made about a 2006 school shooting. 

Katie Sherman had been fighting with the school district already, asking them to give her special-needs son the accommodations his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requires. According to The Barre Montpeliar Times Argus, the dispute goes back to November 2014, when the school first issued the IEP. Sherman expressed concerns and then filed an official complaint in January 2015. 

She enlisted the help of advocacy group Vermont Family Network (VFN) and later commented to VFN's Martha Frank that she could understand how Christopher Williams, an Essex, Vermont, man convicted of killing two elementary school teachers, had been "pushed to the edge."

Little did Sherman know the Supervisory Union would use that comment as justification to issue a no-trespass order, which kept her from going to meetings to complain about the IEP problem. The order also prevented her from voting in elections, since her son's school is also her polling place. In July, Sherman sued, claiming the order violated her constitutional right to vote as well as her right to participate in public meetings. 

According to school officials, the order was meant to protect students and staff, but Sherman's lawyer, Ron Shems, doesn't buy it. As reports

It was after (Sherman) told Frank that she was planning to attend Barre Town school board meetings "to express her concerns and opinions regarding the abilities of the BTSD staff" that Frank told school officials of Sherman's reference to the Essex shooting, according to the lawsuit.

"There was no need to issue a no-trespass order. They were just getting rid of a thorn in their side," Shems said. "She had been complaining and vociferously challenging the school in terms of their failures to comply with her son's IEP, as any mom should."

Sherman has moved to a different school district that she believes is better able to serve her child's needs. She says the settlement money will help cover those costs.