EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ At a recent town meeting in Pillsbury, residents debated for nearly an hour on issues such as whether to reinstate high school football and whether the school year should be longer.

Then Jeff Bryant raised his hand and proposed something out of the blue: Replace the town moderator with a four-person town council that would run the meeting and be made up of members of his Revolutionary Totalitarian Party.

To his astonishment, the voters raised no questions and the RTP took the moderator's gavel on a 10-3 vote.

Pillsbury is an imaginary town. The residents are students in a speech class at the Union 32 High School.

But the events that followed in what is now called the ''bloodless coup of Pillsbury'' taught the students some lessons about an individual's rights in a democratic society.

Joanne Greenberg's speech classes always include a section on parliamentary procedures in which students are allowed to conduct their own ''town meeting.'' She said the sessions at U-32, as the school is called, had always strictly adhered to the New England town meeting model.

But then came Bryant's motion and formation of his council, which was coined the ''Gang of Four'' after a group in China led by Chairman Mao's widow that unsuccessfully attempted to seize power.

Once voted in, Bryant asked Greenberg and two students to join him on the council. They huddled and discussed strategy amongst themselves and other students soon became upset with the private consultations.

''It was like they were sitting on top of Mount Everest and looking down upon us. It was a 'Gang of Four' snobbery,'' said 10th grader Melissa Doner.

The council announced that it had the power to determine if a vote or a motion was valid or invalid.

One student made a motion to oust the committee. The committee ruled that the motion was invalid.

Written into the RTP's constitution, a slightly reworded version of parliamentary procedure, was the power for the students to overrule the council by a two-thirds vote.

However, no one thought to read the rules closely and for more than two class periods, spread over two days, tempers boiled in the classroom.

''Many of the kids really did get upset,'' said Ben Pincus, an 11th grader and council member. ''Some of them were thinking of walking out. The kids resented how we established ourselves as the reigning power.''

At the end of the second day with the RTP, some students finally asked for a vote to reconsider the original motion that put the council in power. The council decided to let the motion stand, and they were soon voted out in favor of the old single moderator form of government.

Scott Cliche, a 10th grader and council member, said the students should have listened more closely and ''not be intimidated by people like Jeff who are intimidating.''

Greenberg said she learned that wielding the powers of a ''dictator'' felt uncomfortable. ''As a teacher you have a certain amount of authority, and yet as it turns out this went beyond my comfort level of power,'' she said.

''Everybody likes to feel they have a certain amount of power, and if they feel that someone is taking some of that away, that they lost something, they were ready to fight,'' Bryant said. ''They became hysterical basically.''

''I think that this does have certain implications that are rather startling. I think it says that as long as people have power, they don't exercise it to the fullest extent,'' he said. ''It seems you have to take it away to make them think about the power they really have.''