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Local
Board seeks citywide vote
Alderman seeks citywide vote on RHS mascot

The Board of Aldermen is looking at putting a resolution dealing with the Rutland High School mascot on the March ballot.

A movement to change the “Raider” mascot because of stereotypes evoked by the name and associated with indigenous imagery has generated controversy in recent weeks, and Alderman Thomas DePoy said Tuesday he thought it should go to a vote, and moved to have the General Committee discuss the resolution and make a recommendation to the full board about whether to hold a referendum.

“I believe the voters of the city of Rutland would like to vote on this,” DePoy said. “I don’t believe this is an issue that should be decided by the Board of School Commissioners or the Board of Aldermen or any other board.”

Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey said the School Board had the subject on their own agenda for that night and that an aldermanic committee meeting seemed like an “awkward” place to discuss it.

“I’m not disinterested in this topic,” she said. “I just don’t think it belongs here.”

Davis noted the aldermen were incapable of changing the board’s decision, and a referendum would be non-binding, but she still saw value in an advisory vote.

“There are opportunities that sometimes get missed to allow the public an opportunity to weigh in,” she said.

Davis noted that some people were advocating for keeping the “Raider” name but doing away with the indigenous imagery. The nickname was once the “Red Raiders,” with a picture of a tribal chief serving as the mascot, but the “Red” has since been removed and the chief has given way to an arrowhead logo.

“Raider means a lot of things,” Davis said. “There are also Raiders that are soldiers and all sorts of things. Is it a name change we need or a symbol change?”

Davis argued the outcome of a referendum would inform the school board’s decision.

“It does encourage the school board to reach out to the public, which sometimes I feel they’re a little separated from.”

Alderwoman Rebecca Mattis said she did not think the issue belonged with the Board of Aldermen, but that she would support sending it to committee because she did not want to shut down discussion.

Alderman Michael Talbott said the public will get its say on the subject when the time comes to re-elect school commissioners.

Alderman Chris Ettori said he supports the notion of discussing “everything,” but said that this was not the aldermen’s issue to put before voters and that the school board should be leading a discussion in the community.

“Putting something like this (on the ballot) gives numbers to division,” Ettori said. “I don’t think that’s the way we want to go. ... It’s about the community learning and growing and deciding whether to keep it.”

Alderwoman Lisa Ryan said she believes the board had a recent history of failing to grapple with racial issues, adding that her mind has been blown by the recent arguments over bias training.

“You all should be ashamed of yourselves,” she said.

DePoy said he was not ashamed, and he said he did not believe the vote would divide the community because the community was heavily opposed to any change.

Despite his comments, Ettori ultimately joined DePoy, Mattis, Davis and Aldermen Sam Gorruso, William Gillam and Paul Clifford in voting in favor of the referral.

Humphrey, Ryan and Talbott voted against it.

gordon.dritschilo

@rutlandherald.com


Covid19
First day of school
Area schools reopen

The first day of school under new pandemic protocols kicked off Tuesday largely without a hitch, according to area superintendents and administrators.

But while students returned to school, not all were in the classroom. Reopening plans vary from district to because of the Scott administration’s decision not to provide a coordinated statewide strategy.

As a result, the weeks leading up to reopening have seen increased frustration, anxiety and confusion among families, teachers and administrators alike.

Last week, the Vermont-NEA, the state’s largest union representing more than 13,000 teachers and school workers, gave the state a D+ on overall preparation for reopening.

“Vermont educators and administrators have been working diligently to develop their local plans for reopening schools, but without a statewide approach and adequate state resources to properly implement these plans, health and safety measures vary widely,” Vermont-NEA president Don Tinney said in statement delivered to at a Thursday news conference.

The result was what he called a “patchwork of standards without consistency.”

But how did things look on the ground Tuesday morning?

In Rutland, Bill Olsen, superintendent of Rutland City Public Schools, was pleased so far.

“I visited a number of classrooms this morning,” he said. “Kids are doing extremely well with masks and distancing, from the youngest to the oldest. It’s impressive to see.”

RCPS opened with in-person instruction five days a week for grades K-9. Grades 10-12 are on an alternating in-person/remote schedule.

Olsen said he planned to visit every building by the end of the day. In his travels, he said he had heard “high praise” for district maintenance staff “and all they did to help us be ready for this moment.”

He said he is aware that staff and families expect “conscientious and thorough” health protocols, and he plans to deliver.

“We will be trying to get into a good routine for health screenings so that we can be efficient,” he said, adding that he expects the routine to improve over time.

Olsen said he had not yet seen the Vermont-NEA report card, but noted that Rutland Education Association President Sue Tanen “has been one of the key members of our district team in the planning process for reopening.”

To the west in the Slate Valley Unified School District, Superintendent Brook Olsen-Farrell said the district had a “successful start.”

Slate Valley reopened for in-person instruction five days a week in grades K-8. Grade 9-12 are following an alternating hybrid schedule.

“Parents, staff and students alike were all very cooperative with the new protocols,” she said. “We found that many were just happy to be back.”

Among those who are back are a number of home-school students who decided to show up for in-person learning. Olsen-Farrell called it “a pleasant surprise.”

She said some schools experienced traffic backups resulting from health screenings, but the process was being refined.

Regarding the report card, Olsen-Farrell said she was unaware what Slate Valley’s local union gave the district for grades, but said the “majority of our staff feels confident in the protocols that have been put in place.”

She said the district has “adequate” PPE and cleaning supplies, “ventilation issues have all been addressed”and all six schools in the district have a full-time nurse with one full-time extra available.

Also, the schools have isolation rooms ready if needed. According to Olsen-Farrell, the rooms cost the district aa total of more than $100,000 to construct.

She said the only concern right now is a lack of bus drivers.

“We have consolidated some runs, but we have a larger number of parents bringing their kids to and from school,” she said.

In the Greater Rutland Central Supervisory Union, Superintendent Christopher Sell said he had visited all eight schools within the SU.

“We had a good first day,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

GRCSU is open four days a week for in-person learning in grades K-12. Wednesdays are remote days.

“People were just glad to get the kids back in the schools, and it seemed like everybody is happy to be back,” Sell said.

Speaking about the report card, Sell said the SU has been working closely with the local union.

“Our union has done a very nice job of sharing their concerns with us,” he said. “I think we’ve done a nice job of trying to address these concerns in the buildings as well.”

On the northern end of the county, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union reopened for in-person instruction in grades K-2. Grades 3-12 are currently remote-only with a plan to phase in additional grades throughout the fall as conditions allow.

“Attitudes are positive, staff is welcoming. Plenty of hand sanitizer is being given out,” Superintendent Jeanne Collins said.

Collins participated in health screenings at Lothrop Elementary in Pittsford Tuesday morning, and said she was “quite pleased to see how smoothly it went.”

“All but one child came with mask on, and we gave that child a mask,” she said.

Collins said the only issues the RNESU experienced were related to technology and meal service.

“We distributed Chromebooks for the past two weeks yet some students … still came without a Chromebook for in-school support,” she said, explaining that accommodations were made.

Collins said meals for in-school and remote learners need to be ordered a week ahead in order to get accurate counts. She acknowledged that it’s a new routine for many parents so there may have been some confusion, but said the issue had been resolved.

She said each building has a nurse assigned to it, and HVAC systems “have been looked at and worked on where needed.”

“I feel we are earning an A looking at the metrics of the Vt. NEA survey,” Collins said. “Our plan had many voices involved and addresses a variety of issues.”

David Younce, superintendent of the Mill River Unified Union School District said reopening had gone “relatively smoothly.”

Mill River has reopened to all-remote instruction for grades K-12 until at least November.

The only exception is students on individualized education plans, who were given the option to attend in-person. Younce said about 70 students chose in-person IEP services.

“Our health protocols are playing out as designed,” he said. “Students who are receiving in-person services were either screened upon boarding the bus or arrival at school. Employees are accounting for their own health screenings and status. All individuals are wearing masks.”

Younce pointed out that the report card focused on schools preparing for in-person reopening. He said Mill River has taken a “very conservative approach” with its all-remote plan to ensure the “safest environment possible.”

“When the time comes, and we believe it is safe and appropriate for us to resume in-person instruction, we will be prepared.”

At Christ the King School in Rutland, Principal Lila Millard said, “Families handled the arrival protocols well and teachers and students are honoring the in-school protocols beautifully.”

Like nearly all Catholic schools in Vermont, CKS opened to in-person instruction five days a week. This week the school is having a staggered opening; grades 4-8 attended yesterday, grades pre-K-3 attend today, and the full school returns Thursday.

While Vermont’s Catholic schools were not included in the Vermont-NEA report card, Millard said school principals were “directly involved in formulating the Diocesan guidelines.”

“We are certainly fielding questions, and that is natural as all of this is so new to everyone” she said. “Those in our communities who have serious concerns have spoken to us individually, and we have worked to provide them the information they have needed to make the best decision for their family.”

At Mount St. Joseph Academy, Principal Michael Alexander said everyone was “doing great.”

He said the school community started its day by gathering at a safe distance in McDonough Gymnasium to talk about the start of this very different school year.

“We talked about what the expectations were for a given school day, and what we’re looking at for the rest of the year, and we talked about roles and responsibilities at all levels — from the students all the way on up through the administration — about how this is going to be a team effort to make us successful,” he said.

Alexander said he believes “everybody’s on board,” and understands the role they play in keeping the community healthy.

“You start with your own personal responsibility, and you work outwards from there, and everybody works together,” he said.

jim.sabataso

@rutlandherald.com


Covid19
'Buy local' gift cards
Residents quickly snatch up $30 gift cards for "buy local" initiative

MONTPELIER — A program by the state offering $30 “buy local” gift cards ran out of money after a few hours Tuesday.

Gov. Phil Scott started his Tuesday news conference touting the program aimed at getting money back into the economy and supporting local businesses. The governor said residents could go online and ask for a gift card that could be used at more than 1,300 Vermont businesses. The program used $425,000 in federal CARES Act dollars to help with the economic damage caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“While it’s not nearly enough, it’s a start,” he said.

Residents could start applying for the gift cards at 11 a.m. Tuesday. A reporter covering the news conference told the governor he had signed up for a gift card, but had not received a notification that his request had been accepted after about an hour. Residents had to submit an email address or a phone number to receive a coupon code.

Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said there was great demand for the program with more than 10,000 residents trying to sign up for 14,166 available gift cards shortly after the program went live.

“So the system is working, but I understand that the codes are still a little delayed. But we’re just asking for folks’ patience and hopefully those codes would be coming your way very shortly,” Kurrle said.

Because the funds were limited, the cards were given out on a first-come, first-served basis and as of Tuesday afternoon the website for the gift cards reported it had run out of money.

The state has been given $1.25 billion from the federal government for economic relief from the pandemic. While much of it has been spoken for, the state needs to use all of it by the end of the year or the funds will have to be returned.

The governor has proposed using $50 million in federal dollars to expand the gift card program to give every household in the state a $150 gift card.

The proposal needs the approval of the Legislature and Kurrle said the House “was not a large fan” of the idea, but the Senate might have a different opinion. The secretary said conversations were ongoing.

Before the pandemic state officials had been working on ways to bring people to Vermont because the state’s population is declining and getting older. But because Vermont is one of the safest states in the country when it comes to the virus, more people have been coming to the state.

“But keeping them here takes an economy that works,” the governor said. “Making Vermont more affordable. And focusing on the economy in general I think will continue to keep people here once they get more complacent.”

The governor said he hopes to see the influx continue for the next couple of years.

eric.blaisdell

@timesargus.com


A hen mallard takes off from Jones Mill Pond in Brandon on Tuesday afternoon.

Flight time


Spotlight

Bee the change

Solar farm developers join with ecologists to create pollinator-friendly environments. A3

Fall sports

High school sports this season is a mixed bag. Herald sports editor Adam Aucoin says, “This year is anything but normal.” One thing’s sure: Players excited to be back on the field. B1