Fair Haven Union High School made national news last February after a former student was arrested for allegedly planning to shoot up the school.
So when a group of parents in charge of fundraising efforts for Fair Haven Union’s Project Graduation decided to raffle off a pair of rifles it raised some eyebrows.
“I think it’s extremely bad taste of both the parents who conducted the raffle and the district for even allowing it to be sold because of the issues of last year,” said Hurley Cavacas, a long time teacher at the high school who retired at the end of the last school year.
“They’ve done this raffle before for hunting and I understand that,” said Cavacas. “But I don’t believe it’s in the best judgement to really wave a gun in front of someone and say, ‘Win me! Win me!’ when you are just getting through a situation where the gun could have been used to shoot somebody on sight.”
Project Graduation is a program offered by many high schools to provide adult-supervised, alcohol-free activities for seniors as part of a post-graduation party.
These activities can last through the night and be expensive. So parents like Melissa Muzzy, who’s son is a senior at Fair Haven Union, are expected to raise money to fund the program.
“We’ve already raffled off a rifle so far and we’ll also raffle off a muzzleloader and have had a cash raffle, too,” she said.
Muzzy wasn’t sure how much they’d raised, but said firearm raffles are popular. “I would say probably 50 percent of the students and parents at this school — including myself — hunt. So it’s not like we’re raffling off to a convict,” she said, laughing. “It’s been a profitable moneymaker in the past and we’re living in a community where probably 95 percent of the people own a gun already.”
But Brooke Olsen Farrell, Superintendent of the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union, which includes Fair Haven Union, said she’d received calls from angry parents who told her after what happened last year at the school, the raffle sends the wrong message.
“While I understand project grad and what that parent organization does for our students, I think it’s just one more thing that we just don’t need right now,” she said.
The school district spent more than $270,000 dollars on security upgrades in the wake of Sawyer’s arrest last year.
Olsen-Farrell stressed that the organizers of Project Graduation are not affiliated with the school and the school district does not endorse or condone the raffle.
She said she and Fair Haven Union’s principal did reach out to some of the parent organizers to voice their concerns, but said “I think they felt pretty adamant that they wanted to go ahead with this because it was a good fundraiser.”
Around Fair Haven, many residents agreed.
Ashley Bride said people have to remember rural Vermont has deep cultural ties to firearms and hunting. “This is something that families value still and I get it that it’s been a tragedy for our community, it’s changed things, but I still think there are some responsible folks out there and if they want to raffle off a firearm to raise money for their children for Project Graduation, I think that’s okay,” said Bride.
While the winner of the rifle had to go through a background check, the winner of the 50-caliber muzzleloader, valued at between $400 and $500 dollars, will not. Muzzleloaders are not considered firearms, according to state and federal law.