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COVID-19 unlikely to cancel Halloween, but people will need to be creative to be safe

MONTPELIER — The COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted nearly everyone’s lives during the past six months shouldn’t stop Halloween from being celebrated, though it will require some creativity, according to Vermont’s top health official.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said at a news conference Friday that earlier this week state officials did discuss Halloween and how it might play out this year during a global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen since 1918.

“I don’t see that as a problem in Vermont now, but I do see it as an opportunity for everybody to be creative and think about how to do things correctly,” said Levine, after being asked about what strategy Vermont might take in light of media reports that Los Angeles had banned trick-or-treating to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Recent media reports suggest that the California city’s leaders have since walked back that plan.

“I would compare the state of Vermont to Los Angeles on just the one metric that’s important, which is the percent positivity rate and the amount of new cases,” said Levine. “There should, in appropriate locations, be some public health guidance or even public health recommendations regarding having or not having Halloween.”

Levine said Halloween activities that don’t involve large groups of people or close contact between individuals shouldn’t be an issue. Of course, Halloween is often celebrated with large parties and big groups of children gathering on doorsteps and porches.

“There are creative ways to do this, whether it be setting out the candy on a table and letting people know how much they can take or what have you,” said Levine. “Without giving you every detail of how I envision Halloween, I try to drive home the message that within the usual guidelines we give out on everything, there should be room for Halloween. People can still enjoy the holiday to a degree and still be festive and dressed up as they always are.”

He said he didn’t wish to joke about the situation, but everyone out for Halloween should wear a mask.

Earlier in the news conference, Gov. Phil Scott said he would extend the state of emergency, imposed back in March, to Oct. 15. He said the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order has led to Vermont having very low numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths compared to the rest of the country.

He led the news conference talking about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying that beating the COVID-19 crisis will require the same mindset Americans had following the attacks.

“But today in the face of a once in a century crisis that has taken the lives of almost 200,000 Americans, it’s also important to remember the determination and resolve we found in those days, weeks, and months following Sept. 11,” said the governor. “Because our country desperately needs to find that energy again. We need to harness the same care and compassion that allowed us to move forward then in order to get us through the deadly emergency we face today.”

He said the pandemic crisis won’t be over until a vaccine is developed and distributed.

It’s not clear when that will be, according to Levine, who acknowledged people’s fears that the vaccine development process will be marred by national politics. Levine said his department is keeping a careful eye on vaccine development efforts and that he’s heartened by pledges made by pharmaceutical companies and federal drug regulators that what’s offered will be safe and effective.

“I want to make it quite clear that Vermont’s health department is keeping a close watch on the vaccine development process to be sure that we can trust that politics do not trump science, and that when a safe and effective vaccine is available, we’ll be ready to deliver it to Vermonters quickly and equitably,” he said.

Levine added that the flu vaccine should be available soon and recommended everyone older than 6 months get it, as having the flu on top of COVID-19, or one after the other, if not devastating, likely would be unpleasant. He said practices aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus might also be effective against the flu.



Nate Pacheco, left, Frankie Hoover, and Tyler Hale, right, all from Fair Haven, watch as Michael Leye, of Rutland, dunks while playing basketball together on Friday afternoon on Cherry Street in Rutland.

Local ballers

Lawsuit aims to broaden school choice

A pending lawsuit may broaden the state’s school choice options.

This week, three Vermont families filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Vermont claiming the the state’s school choice and tuition voucher program is unconstitutional.

According to current Vermont statute, a student living in a town that does not have a high school is able to apply for a tuition voucher to attend a public or private school elsewhere in the state. Religiously affiliated schools are currently barred from the program.

The complaint states that the state law denying tuition payments to families who choose to send their children to “otherwise qualified” private religious schools, while allowing payments for secular private schools, is a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise, Establishment and Exercise Clauses, and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses.

The plaintiffs named in the suit are Michael and Nancy Valente, of Mount Holly; Paul and Ingrid Gallo, of Rutland Town; and Steve and Joanna Buckley, of Hartland.

The Valentes and Gallos send their children to Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland. The Buckleys’ two sons attend New England Classical Academy in Claremont, a private Catholic school in New Hampshire.

The defendants named are Daniel French in his capacity as state secretary of education, the State Board of Education, Greater Rutland Central Supervisory Union (GRCSU), Two Rivers Supervisory Union (TRSU) and Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union (WSSU).

The families are being represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian, nonprofit law firm based in Arlington, Virginia, that advocates for educational choice. Most notably, IJ represented families in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

In that case, the court ruled in a 5-4 decision on behalf of the families. In the court’s opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that, “(a) State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Earlier this month, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction in a lawsuit involving students from Rice Memorial High School in Burlington seeking access to the state’s dual-enrollment program. The state-funded program allows Vermont high school juniors and seniors the ability to take college courses with full tuition reimbursement.

The injunction, issued in light of the Espinoza case, will permit the students involved in the lawsuit to access the program while the appeal is pending.

According to Tim Keller, lead attorney for the families, “New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont are the only states in the country that do not allow families to choose religious schools as a part of their publicly funded school choice programs.”

IJ is currently mounting a similar case in New Hampshire.

David Hodges, co-counsel for the families, said Vermont’s policy “clearly” violates the Espinoza decision.

“(Vermont) has a statewide school choice policy, and anyone can participate unless the school is religious. And, it appears, that the only reason why they can’t participate is because the school is religious,” Hodges said.

Paul Gallo is an MSJ graduate and longtime advocate for the school. His daughter Lucy is a senior at MSJ.

“There is nothing wrong with sending your child to public school,” Gallo said. “There were many public school choices for us around town, but we chose Mount St. Joseph Academy for our daughter because it was the right fit for our family.”

Gallo cited the school’s small setting and high academic demands as attributes he values.

“We also felt the structure, the accountability and the moral standards were parallel with our family values,” he said.

Gallo said he believes there are “quite a few families” in the area who would send their children to MSJ if they could use a tuition voucher.

Michael Valente’s son Dominic is a sophomore at MSJ. Previously, Dominic had attended Black River High School in Ludlow, but when that school closed in June, the Valentes began exploring options.

The options available were not ideal. Some, like Green Mountain Union High School in Chester would have required a 90-minute commute both ways on two separate buses.

While Mill River Union and Rutland High schools were closer, Valente said their large sizes presented difficulties for Dominic, who has hearing loss and an auditory processing disorder.

“So when we looked at MSJ, it’s a smaller school, more intimate setting,” Valente said on Thursday. “With his hearing concerns, smaller classes is pretty much what we were told would be the best thing for him.”

This is not Valente’s first attempt to receive a tuition voucher to MSJ. He said he made the request last year, but the TRSU denied it, citing the separation of church and state.

“When we heard about the Espinosa v. Montana ruling, we decided to request again,” he said.

In July, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington encouraged families from tuitioning towns to contact the Institute for Justice.

“We support a family’s right to pursue school choice, especially in the situation where a student does not have a local school option and is allowed to choose any school except a religious school,” Jeanne Gearon, superintendent of schools for the Diocese, stated in an email Friday.

Valente said he and the other families have been working with IJ for “about a month.”

The Buckleys were not immediately available to comment.

In an email Friday, GRCSU Superintendent Christopher Sell said, “At this time, I cannot comment due to the pending litigation against the State of Vermont and the supervisory union.”

TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman declined to comment on the lawsuit except to say that the SU would defer to the state’s guidance on the matter.

“We will do what they direct us to do,” she said.

WSSU Superintendent David Baker said he was not available to speak Friday.

The last push to allow private religious schools to participate in state school choice programs happened in the mid-1990s when the Chittenden School District in Rutland County approved tuition vouchers to MSJ for 15 Barstow Memorial School students. Litigation ensued before any payments were made.

In that case, Chittenden Town School District v. Department of Education, in 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the Vermont Constitution prohibits a municipality from reimbursing the tuition of students who attend a “pervasively sectarian school.”

Pietro Lynn, an attorney at Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky in Burlington, called the current lawsuit “unsurprising” in light of the Espinoza case.

Lynn’s firm specializes in education law and represents about 80% of school districts in Vermont.

He said whether the Vermont Constitution permits state funds to be spent on religious schools remains an open question, as does the argument that the U.S. Constitution always trumps state constitutions.

“If there is an independent set of rules that exist within the State Constitution that are more restrictive in some ways around separation of church and state, then the Vermont courts might interpret those as being restrictive around the issue of whether public funds can support religious-oriented schools,” Lynn said, adding that he expects the state will want to take up this case.

“I would anticipate that the (Agency of Education) and the attorney general’s office will defend the case,” he said. “At a minimum, they’ll want to get clarification from the Vermont Supreme Court so that there is no ambiguity.”

“I would not be surprised if this case ends up going to the Vermont Supreme Court, and the Vermont Supreme Court holds that the Vermont Constitution is different than the United States Constitution,” he said.

In an email Thursday evening, Agency of Education spokesperson Ted Fisher declined to comment on the matter, writing, “The Vermont Agency of Education does not comment on pending litigation.”

Disclosure: Jim Sabataso is a graduate of MSJ.



'Some Pig!': Vt's learned porker (copy)

In Fall 1875, Charles Winn bought a small pig from his neighbor Henry Bradley and named him “Ben Butler” after the controversial Union general and Massachusetts governor.

Although Butler had a slightly porcine appearance, it was more likely that the name was a reference to his character rather than his physical appearance. Butler’s strict imposition of martial law in New Orleans earned him the sobriquet “The Beast.”

Winn, however, lived in North Danville, and set about training the young porker at his farm on Pumpkin Hill.

Born in Danville in 1838, Winn was first and foremost a farmer, but in those days that meant he was a jack-of-all-trades and, by necessity, ready to do anything to make a living for himself and his wife Georgianna. To make matters worse, he had just one arm, which had rendered him exempt from Civil War service. Although his injury had kept him safe from the cauldron of war, it made a farmer’s life even more of a challenge.

Forming an almost instant attachment to his new pet, Winn found the animal a quick and willing student and he was soon able to exhibit the animal prodigy at county fairs, church socials, and local talent shows, reaping far greater rewards than the rashers of bacon that otherwise would have been the pig’s fate. Winn even billed himself as “Professor Winn,” a common prefix used by magicians, ventriloquists and confidence men in the 19th century. Ben Butler was an instant success. A newspaper from Lyndon, The Vermont Union, opined:

“Did you see that educated pig at the fairs, trained and exhibited by Charles Winn, of Danville. It was no humbug. The pig would tell by picking up figures the hour and the minute by the watch, also the numbers of cents in any piece of coin or scrip, would add or multiply figures correctly, would pick out the name of any President called for, and play a good game of euchre. Winn claims that the hog has more brains, not withstanding his stupid look, than any other domestic animal.”

As unlikely as it may seem today, the “Learned Pig” was a staple of popular entertainment throughout much of the 19th century. The most famous exemplar was Toby, the original Learned Pig, taught to respond to commands by a Scottish showman named Samuel Bisset. Toby was the toast of London, and ever after, an educated pig was often named “Toby.” So famous was this animal prodigy that, when in London (1786), Thomas Jefferson remarked upon witnessing the creature’s performance — allowing Toby equal space in his diary to that of the king. In his biography of Jefferson, Kevin Hayes commented “Jefferson seems to have preferred the oinkers company: better a learned pig than a mulish monarch.”

While Toby reigned supreme on the London stage, William Frederick Pinchbeck brought his version of the Learned Pig to the United States. An advertisement for his exhibition was printed in the Boston Gazette for Jan. 29, 1798.

“Mr. Pinchbeck respectfully informs the ladies and gentlemen of Boston that he has just arrived in town with that very great natural curiosity, The Learned Pig, which has lately been brought from England and purchased at Philadelphia for one thousand dollars. This astonishing and sagacious animal will actually perform the following surprising particulars.”

“He reads print of writing, spells, tells the time of day, both the hours and minutes, by any person’s watch in the company, the date of the year, the day of the month, distinguishes colors, how many persons there are present, and to the astonishment of every spectator will answer any question in the four first rules of arithmetic. To conclude, any lady or gentleman may draw a card from a pack and keep it concealed, the pig, without hesitation, will discover the card.”

For this remarkable entertainment, Pinchbeck charged 50 cents for admission, around $10 today.

In his treatise The Expositor, the first book on conjuring published in the United States, Pinchbeck revealed the secrets of the Learned Pig, as well as a variety of other illusions of the stage magician including The Invisible Lady, The Acoustic Temple, and other optical effects. He also explained the very popular skill of ventriloquism.

In practice, an educated pig would stand behind an array of cards with names, numbers and letters (not unlike a Ouija board), and when asked questions would answer by selecting an appropriate response card. According to The Expositor, the training should follow this pedagogic example.

Take a pig, seven or eight weeks old, let him have free access to the interior part of your house until he shall become in some measure domesticated. When familiar you may enter upon his instruction. Three times a day instruct him as follows:

“Put a card in his mouth, and hold it shut, giving him to understand he is not to drop it …”

The instructions in The Expositor are quite detailed and continue for four lessons in which Pinchbeck describes how to teach the pig to pick up a card with a corner bent upwards with this caution, “accustom him to your snuffing the nose for purposes that will appear as he progresses in his learning.” Of course, the reader is reminded to reward the pig liberally with treats when he does what he is told.

Lesson three begins, “You must now lay down three cards. He will naturally try to take the one most convenient to him; and your business is to check him not snuffing your nose; and taking it from him in an angry tone of voice, replace the same, and force him to take the one next to him or the third, snuffing your nose.” The snuffing sound then becomes the cue for the pig to take a particular card.

By persevering in this manner a few days, he will soon understand that he must not take hold until you give him the signal, which is breathing through your nose. When you have learnt him this, you may continue increasing the cards; and that animal, who in his rude state appears the most stupid, with the least share of tractability amongst all other quadrupeds, will be found sapient, docile, and gentle.

The final lesson, Pinchbeck cautioned, would take a fortnight to master.

“Spread 12 cards on the floor in a circular direction, four inches apart; within this circle keep the pig and yourself. We will suppose you before an assembly for the purpose of an exhibition. Therefore you must give up sitting as that posture would be very singular as well as impolite. The pig observing you. In this unusual position, will be much embarrassed.”

Pinchbeck also suggests controlling the pig with a length of string. “At the length of the string he will learn to walk the circle with his nose to the cards; and when he hears the signal before mentioned he will snatch at the card he shall then be opposite: immediately step back and he will follow with the same. Give him a piece of bread as his reward.”

Winn must have used the 1805 text or similar instructions to prepare his pig for the stage. With his performer thus trained, Winn embarked upon a career in show business. A note in the Montpelier Argus for October 1876 mentions the act:

“Charles Winn of Danville has an educated pig, which is so well trained as to tell by cards the time of day, the number of days in the year, and any sum in multiplication the product of which is less than one hundred. It will also tell you who was the first President and will pick out the name of any of the Presidents by hearing them called. Charlie says that his pig knows all about the old Presidents, but cannot tell who the new one will be.”

A few years later there was another brief mention in the Argus from the Washington County Fair. “The Learned Pig, exhibited by Prof. Charles S. Winn, a one-armed farmer, was fairly patronized. His merits were well set forth by Mr. Robert Burns Gammon at the entrance after the following happy manner.”

The pitchman’s spiel was effective enough to attract large crowds for Winn’s theatrical spectacle.

Winn’s pig was so adept at performing that he sold Ben Butler to a pair of Boston showmen. The St. Albans Messenger for June 30, 1877, reported: “Charles Winn of Danville, who sold his educated pig last fall, had recently commenced the task of educating a seven weeks old pig.” It was reported that two show-business empresarios from Boston paid $200 for the original Ben Butler. The clever Charlie Winn immediately set about training a replacement pig, which he exhibited the following summer and fall.

Winn passed away from heart disease in Danville on the Fourth of July 1884. The show-business pioneer was survived by his famous pig.

Paul Heller is a writer and historian from Barre.

Citing harassment
Rutland NAACP leader leaves home following harassment

WALLINGFORD — The leader of the Rutland County chapter of NAACP is leaving her home following months of racially motivated harassment targeting her and her young family members.

Tabitha Moore, director of the Rutland Area chapter of NAACP, said Friday she’s already found a buyer for her home, but doesn’t know yet where she and her family will move.

“It’s been heating up for a while, since June,” she said. “A number of nonspecific threats and different incidents have been growing.”

Among the incidents was the vandalism of a wooden pallet Moore had decorated for Wallingford Day, which sees town residents decorate wooden shipping pallets and display them in their yards. Moore’s, which a friend displayed on their lawn, bore Black Lives Matter imagery and had white paint thrown on it near the end of August.

“The tipping point for me, though, was watching what our community did when my daughter was successful. She’s been working for a while trying to figure out what to say to the School Board, and she finally did,” said Moore, referring to her daughter, Reese Eldert-Moore, then a student at Mill River Union High School, in June convincing the School Board to allow the BLM flag to be flown at Mill River Union High School.

“The School Board saw reason with her presentation and that of other students, but watching what grown adults do to children was the tipping point for me, and I started paying more attention to how my family was being affected by the work we’re trying to do, and how they’re still being affected even right now,” said Moore.

Also, the School Board decided to allow the Pride Flag to be flown in support of LGBTQ students, but following backlash and a petition to put the flag issue to a vote despite that power being vested in the board, it decided to hold off from raising the flags until a flag policy could be further developed.

Moore said her daughter had been targeted by people on Facebook, seemingly over things her mother has said publicly. “Why would you target a kid? It makes no sense except that you’re really uncomfortable with the progress we’re trying to make and you’re not very savvy about how to have this conversation with adults,” said Moore.

She said she’s suspended her campaign for high bailiff, a countywide seat, not because she plans to leave the county, but because campaigning, finding a new home and seeing to her family’s needs don’t allow for it.

“I love Wallingford, and I love the Rutland area in a lot of ways, but I don’t have to kill myself to make it a better place especially when people are just being awful for no reason,” she said.

Moore grew up in Wallingford, left in 2006, came back to Vermont in 2009 and lived in Clarendon briefly before buying her home in Wallingford. She said the town is full of good people who support her, hence the reason she’s stayed as long as she has, but it’s become too much.

Moore isn’t the only Black person in a public position to face this issue. Her story is similar to that of Kiah Morris, who in 2018 ended her re-election campaign to the Vermont House of Representatives owing to racial harassment. Morris represented Bennington.

Morris will host two poetry readings to raise money and assist in Moore’s relocation.

The performances will be held at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday at Democracy Creative in Burlington. Also, there are tickets for a livestream of the events that can be found at kiahmorris.com/fortabitha.

“The hope is that art can cross boundaries, upset expectations and bring both joy and reckoning,” Morris stated in an email. “This performance is a manifestation of my love for Tabitha and, I hope, of the wider community’s love and support as well.”

Moore said she and Morris are both public figures, but everyday Black and brown people face similar struggles.

“The number of people that leave because they can’t handle the racism, because of the way that racism is so insidious here and the way people respond when you say hey, that was racist. it’s just too much,” Moore said. “The level of offense people take when you point out an act is racist is just — it’s almost too draining to have to deal with their reaction.”

She said Vermont isn’t mostly white by happenstance, the eugenics program and escaped slave laws from generations past have played their part. “If we are to end systemic racism, we must remain committed, we must remain in it,” she said. ”So I’m just repositioning myself, I’m not leaving. I’m going to continue to do the work in Rutland County and across the state. If anything, this just strengthens my resolve and lets me know we’re doing good work.”



Rail topper

New chapter

Herald sports writer Tom Haley notes there is new life in the MSJ girls soccer program with a turnout of 20 players, a number unthinkable when coach Lori Patterson took over several years ago. B1

Dozens of young bear cubs, orphaned across Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, are getting a new lease on life this summer at the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, New Hampshire, run by Ben Kilham, his wife Debbie, and his sister Phoebe. The cubs will be released next spring, when wildlife wardens across the region will begin to drop off a new set of orphaned bears.

Rutland artist Bill Ramage, former Castleton University professor, spearheaded what has been called the “Rutland Renaissance.”