City schools officially have a new mascot.
The Rutland City Board of School Commissioners voted 6-4 Tuesday to adopt the Ravens as the new district mascot.
Last October — following a public campaign led by Rutland High School students and alumni — the board voted along the same lines to retire the Raider name and arrowhead symbol, deeming it offensive and hurtful to Indigenous Americans.
It then charged RHS Principal Greg Schillinger to convene a student advisory committee to work toward selecting a new mascot. Last week, after several months of work and multiple surveys and votes, the school community — including students in grades 3-12, faculty and staff — selected the Ravens.
Schillinger and several RHS students presented their work to the board Tuesday night.
The board’s vote was preceded by an extended discussion among members about the semiotics of the mascots the committee had selected.
Commissioner Hurley Cavacas argued that, in Native American cultures, the raven is “highly negative.”
“I’m not quite sure if we’re being hypocrites by looking at another symbol used a Native American culture,” he said.
In an email Wednesday, Rich Holschuh, a representative of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, called that argument a “complete strawman.”
“There are many different entities that are symbolic to any number of cultures,” he wrote. “Cultural appropriation happens when the cultural connection is lifted out of context and used for another purpose. If some conjectural native cultural association (which is, itself, a good example of stereotyping and generalization on the part of the commenter: There is no single native cultural practice) with the raven is being depicted, then it is appropriation. If it’s just a raven, then it’s not.”
Holschuh stated that similar arguments about the Raider name and arrowhead symbol carrying meanings that extend beyond Indigenous cultures don’t hold up.
“In its immediate context in Rutland it is a continuation of the legacy of the Rutland Red Raiders. There is no ambiguity there,” he wrote. “On the other hand, it is a somewhat separate situation to rebrand the Raiders name, to a different evocation. It needn’t be a Native variant. That is a fine line that it might be possible to walk, but should probably be avoided because of its recent past associations (which have led to this juncture).”
Local Indigenous communities have been consistent in their opposition to the use of mascots, logos and symbols. At its November meeting, the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, a body composed of representatives from the state’s Native American tribes, moved to begin drafting a statement in response to Rutland’s Raider debate, stating that the commission “is not in favor of mascots, logos or symbols that evoke Native American names, history or material culture.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Schillinger acknowledged that all mascot candidates considered by the committee had positive and negative connotations, asserting that the committee did its due diligence in vetting them.
“I think, depending on the culture that you choose, there’s a myth that’s associated with almost every animal or natural phenomenon,” he said.
Commissioner Brittany Cavacas asked how the administration could allow students to proceed with the selection process while acknowledging that any and all the choices could have negative connotations.
“I’m a Catholic. So, for me, a raven is negative,” she said, arguing that the new mascot should not be offensive to anyone.
While the raven is associated with death in certain cultures, it is also depicted favorably in Catholicism and serves as an emblem for several saints. St. Benedict of Nursia, patron saint of students and Europe, is said to have been saved by a raven who stole bread from him that had been poisoned. Also, the prophet Elijah is represented by a raven. In 1 Kings, God sent him ravens bearing food.
Cavacas further stated that she is offended by the inclusion of the Railers as an option, noting that it has sexual connotations. She alleged that a “large group” of high school students voted for Railers because of that connotation.
RHS senior Caleb Dundas explained that the Railers was included by the committee because of Rutland’s history with railroads, and was done so “in good faith.”
Schillinger argued that it was moot to debate options that had not been chosen.
“Whatever problems there were with options that have been eliminated, granted. Our recommendation is the Ravens,” he said.
Commissioner Matthew Olewnik said the debate about any Native American symbology connected to the raven “misses the point about what the initial concern from the advocates for the change was, which is not having a mascot that turns human beings into a mascot in our community.”
Hurley Cavacas characterized Olewnik’s comments as subjective, noting that “raiders just means a warrior, and it is not directly tied to the Native American culture.”
He went on to say he was “appalled” at the final four choices, one of which was the Rams, which he called sexist since it is a name for male sheep.
Further demonstrating his argument on subjectivity, Cavacas said the choice of a raven in the middle of a pandemic was in “poor taste” since it “has always meant the Black Plague and the death and all of that, too.”
Commissioner Dena Goldberg underscored the importance of context.
“In our town, the word ‘raider’ in its evolution, if we look back in history, has created a context … We kind of evolved it, but the context is what has been presented to us as the problem,” she said.
Commissioner Charlene Seward suggested that such an evolution has moved the name far away from any initial connections to Native Americans.
“When most people … say ‘raider,’ they’re not they’re not thinking about an Indian or thinking of anything along those lines,” she said.
After the 30-plus-minute discussion, Commissioner Joanne Pencak made a motion to accept the Ravens as the new district mascot.
Commissioner Erin Shimp then moved to table the vote, stating that she believed the board needed more information. Her motion was seconded, but failed.
Pencak’s original motion then passed 6-4, with Commissioners Ann Dages, Goldberg, Kevin Kiefaber, Olewnik, Pencak and Cathy Solsaa voting “yay,” and Commissioners Brittany Cavacas, Hurley Cavacas, Seward and Shimp voting “nay.”
On Wednesday, RCPS officials addressed concerns that some people were unable to access the meeting, which was held on Zoom. A statement posted to the district’s Facebook page explained that a commissioner had shared their personal meeting link with other individuals, which led to confusion for the meeting host who saw multiple sign-in attempts under the same name.
“We had nine people arrive as one of our Board members. Knowing that could not be the case, seeing the Board member on the meeting, the extras were removed,” Assistant Superintendent Rob Bliss stated. “We work on organizing the meetings to maximize viewership and participation. We also seek to increase security and avoid the ‘Zoom Bombing’ that occurred at public meetings across Vermont, and the Country, during the spring of 2020.”
“Zoom bombing” is when unknown parties enter a Zoom meeting to disrupt it, often by shouting profanities or displaying inappropriate images.
Bliss said a link to register for meeting can be found online at the RCPS website (www.rutlandcitypublicschools.org).
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include details on how individual commissioners voted and information about why some members of the public were unable to access Tuesday's meeting.
Rutland City’s mayoral candidates stayed on-message Wednesday.
Six of the seven candidates participated in a forum conducted via Zoom by the Rutland Young Professionals. The forum also was streamed live on Facebook. Questions ranged from retaining youth to the fate of the library. The candidates managed to repeatedly link the diverse issues back to their campaign themes.
For incumbent David Allaire, that theme was one of continued improvement. Allaire said city government was “strong and stable,” that budgets had been largely level-funded, long-running projects had been completed and new ones launched, with voters backing bonds for road paving and buying the College of St. Joseph gym. Investments in the city could be seen at the former Knights of Columbus building and Immaculate Heart of Mary school and city-owned properties were going back on the tax rolls.
“Real estate values are up; crime is down,” Allaire said. “There’s every reason to be optimistic, post-COVID.”
Alderman Sam Gorruso disagreed with the mayor’s assessment of the state of the city, pointing to a roughly $500,000 increase in the city’s $22 million budget. Gorruso said he had more experience with business than anyone else in the race, describing being called in twice to put WJJR right when it was losing money. His theme, though, was people. On issues from deciding how to help small businesses to deciding how to tackle infrastructure, Gorruso’s solution was repeatedly to talk to the people involved.
“Business and government are both about people,” he said. “It takes people to run government. It takes people to live in our city.”
Kam Johnston said he offered a unique perspective, and repeatedly offered out-of-the-box ideas. Instead of spending so much money paving roads, he suggested unpaving them in favor of dirt roads in some neighborhoods, arguing they would be cheaper to maintain. He argued for expanding the city report to include not just financial reports from the previous year, but strategic planning for the coming year, with “benchmarks and robust information.”
“I used to call Dave Allaire ‘Louras Light,’” Johnston said, referring to Allaire’s predecessor, Chris Louras. “Now I think he’s just plain Louras because there’s been no change in the budgeting process.”
Johnston invited anyone who does not want to vote for him to vote for his mother, Marge Johnston. Marge Johnston, while on the ballot, is declining to participate in any forums or media interviews according to her son, who says he is acting as her media adviser.
Kathleen Krevetsky’s theme — and her vision for the city — was food. Krevetsky argues the city needs to support the Vermont Farmers Food Center as a business incubator, and foresees a culinary school, new restaurants and a variety of food-related businesses. Her ideas did occasionally venture away from farm and table — she continues to argue for the removal of fluoride from city water and said she believes the city could do more to pull in through-hikers on Appalachian Trail.
“We will grow our food economy and bring back economic prosperity to our region,” she said.
Alderman Chris Ettori spoke of a need for change, saying the city was on the edge of a “paradigm shift.” He called for changes in the way groups like the Rutland Redevelopment Authority function, a renewed focus on improving housing and the development of an atmosphere that encourages entrepreneurs. He said he was frustrated with the lack of follow-through on various planning efforts, something he would combat through greater transparency and giving residents more access to city government.
“I’m really looking forward to using Tuttle Hall or the rec center to hold forums that I will facilitate to engage folks in a productive dialogue,” he said.
Matthew Godnick Seager also spoke a lot about change as well as a focus on the city’s “foundation.” That foundation was jobs, he said, but rather than creating jobs, he said he wants to fill them by expanding trade education in the city. Much of the rest of what Rutland needs, he said, would flow from that.
“The work’s here,” he said. “Anyone who’s tried to get a plumber over to the house, or an electrician, knows this to be true. ... We cannot continue down the same path of voting for the same people and getting the same results.”
Rutland County is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, with new cases second only to Chittenden County. The increase is leading health officials to ask people in the area to take extra precautions to prevent catching or spreading the virus.
Only 62 new COVID cases were reported on Tuesday, according to the Vermont Department of Health. But during the past two weeks, 311 new cases were reported in Rutland County, while Chittenden County had 356. Washington County, by contrast, had 154.
According to the U.S. Census, Chittenden County had a population of almost 164,000 in 2019 and Rutland County had about 58,000, almost a third of Chittenden County.
A release sent to Rutland County town health officers on Wednesday stated there is evidence from Rutland City and some surrounding towns of “increased rates, multiple household clusters and workplaces with cases.”
Towns with increased rates of COVID include Benson, Pittsford, Castleton, West Haven and Fair Haven.
“At this time we are seeing an increased number of cases that are not known to be associated with an outbreak, which is an indication of more widespread community transmission,” stated the release sent by Renee Bousquet, district director for the Vermont health department in Rutland County.
Dr. Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer for Rutland Regional Medical Center, said Wednesday, “we are seeing more cases than we have ever seen in our area, and it’s from everywhere.”
“It’s patients that are coming into the ER who have COVID; it’s patients who require admission who have COVID; and it’s outpatients who are going to our testing center or other testing centers that are positive for COVID,” he said.
Hildebrand estimated the increase had been going on for at least two weeks.
“Prior to now, we had outbreaks, a number of outbreaks, right? So a school would have an outbreak or a business would have an outbreak, there would be a multi-household gathering that would result in an outbreak. We’re not seeing that anymore. We’re just seeing everywhere, positive cases that are not linked to outbreaks but are just due to community transmission,” Hildebrand said.
The doctor said the widespread community transmission had been seen in other communities but not really in Vermont outside of Burlington. He called it “very concerning.”
“Over the last weeks we’ve seen an increase in cases. Our projection is we’re going to continue to see an increase in cases for the next several weeks to months,” he said.
Bousquet’s release stated the health department was releasing information to ask town officials for help in slowing or stopping the spread of the virus. The health officers were asked to “increase messaging” on social media or websites like Front Porch Forum.
Hildebrand advised residents consider three steps they can take to help. First, he suggested anyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated, get the shot as soon as possible.
If you must go out, Hildebrand said, wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice social distancing.
“It’s really all three of those that need to be done. You can’t just do two of them,” he said.
The final caution, Hildebrand offered, was to avoid multi-household gatherings. “We’ve had a number of opportunities to do that, most recently with the Super Bowl, and people who have had multi-household gatherings are putting themselves and their family at much increased risk of contracting COVID and spreading it,” he said.
While Hildebrant said some people are critically ill with COVID and need to be in the intensive care unit, “there’s a lot of people who have minimal symptoms … perhaps a stuffy nose and a cough.”
Some of those people are going to work. But Hildebrand said it was very important, even for those who have minimal symptoms to stay at home so they don’t spread COVID.
Health care officials are trying to contact Rutland County sites to give them information about the situation and tips on how to respond.
Bennett Truman, a spokesman for the state health department, said there had been lessons learned through experience.
“As we have throughout the pandemic, when cases are associated with entities such as business, health care facilities, houses of worship and schools, our outbreak prevention and response team reaches out to them as part of any investigation. We review precautions being taken, provide guidance and recommendations as appropriate, including for any improvements needed, and for any recommended communication to their employees, clients, parishioners, etc.,” he said by email.
Hildebrand said staff at RRMC had talked “extensively” with officials at the Vermont Department of Health to determine whether the local situation was at a crisis point.
To date, staff at the hospital has made some changes they hope will keep crises from worsening.
“Some of that is having really good projections about what’s going to happen. We’re making some changes, as an example to the fifth floor of our hospital to allocate more beds to COVID care, so that if it were to have more COVID cases than we’re typically able to care for, we’ll have the resources to do that,” he said.
Other changes include the way that personal protective equipment, or PPE, is being used and the way the staff is deployed.
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