MONTPELIER — The governor is encouraging school districts to mandate coronavirus vaccines for teachers and staff.
At his regular news conference Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott said starting Wednesday, all state employees under the executive branch will have to attest to vaccination or submit to weekly testing and wear a mask while working. This vaccine mandate is expected to affect about 8,500 workers. A similar mandate went into effect Sept. 1 for corrections workers and those at the Vermont Veterans Home and the state psychiatric hospital.
Scott said this change will help make workplaces safer and encouraged other employers to institute their own such mandate.
The Biden administration has announced it will require employers with 100 or more employees to have a vaccine mandate as part of the requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Scott said he’s asked for clarity to see if school workers fall under those OSHA requirements.
The governor said because there is no longer a state of emergency in place, he cannot issue a vaccine mandate for school workers.
“But I encourage school districts, who are the employers, to use the state as a model and take a similar approach,” he said.
Scott was on his weekly call with other governors and the White House about the pandemic response prior to Tuesday’s news conference. The governor said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported on that call that the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory committee will meet Friday to discuss a third vaccine shot, referred to as a booster shot, for those who received the Pfizer vaccine.
He said booster shots for those who received the vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are expected at a later date. Currently, Pfizer’s is the only vaccine to have received full FDA approval while the other two vaccines remain under emergency use authorization in the United States.
Scott said the FDA will need to make a decision based on what its committee finds before the CDC will issue its recommendation allowing for the booster shot.
He said studies are currently underway looking at the safety and effectiveness of one person receiving vaccines from more than one manufacturer, described as “mixing and matching,” and recommendations are expected soon.
Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, said state officials have already started planning the rollout for booster shots. Smith said health care workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities are expected to be the first eligible for the third doses.
He said residents will need to make an appointment for a third dose once it’s available to the public. Smith said those appointments can’t be made now. The secretary said he expects more details once the federal government issues its guidance for booster shots.
CASTLETON — Vermont’s first college chapter of the NAACP is ready for action.
In June, Castleton University’s chapter of the national civil rights organization received official approval, making it one of more than 600 youth, high school and college chapters in the country.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP, which has 2,200 chapters nationally, seeks to eliminate race-based discrimination and address issues of racial, political, educational, social and economic inequality.
Not unlike the founding of the organization itself, Castleton’s chapter was born out of a moment of racial conflict.
Last fall, a CU student sent a series of racist emails to a Black student in response to the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag on campus.
In the wake of the incident, then-senior Raynolds Awusi, along with Nadia Cox and Tajae Edwards, began work to establish an NAACP chapter on campus.
Cox and Edwards, both seniors, now serve as the chapter’s co-presidents.
Edwards, a business major who transferred to CU last year from Hudson Valley Community College, is passionate about the work the chapter is doing.
“As soon as I transferred, and I heard of some of the incidents that happened … I decided to join as quickly as possible,” he said.
Edwards said much of the work he sees the chapter focusing on is education and raising awareness of issues in order to prevent future incidents from happening.
“Prevention is better than a cure,” he said. “A lot of it comes around to educating each other on acceptance.”
Edwards said he has seen much support for racial equality among his fellow students, especially last year when news of the racist emails circulated on campus.
“A lot of students, no matter what their race was … they wanted everyone to see that this is wrong,” he said.
Edwards said the incident motivated students to join the chapter.
“They were passionate in the meetings, hearing their ideas and having these discussions — a lot of tough discussions that a lot of people shy away from. So I think we have a good community here, for the most part,” he said.
The CU chapter currently boasts about 30 members — just more than the minimum requirement of 25 for official recognition.
Cox said retention of old members and recruitment of new ones is a priority this semester. Chapter leaders attended a recent club and activities fair and have been actively connecting with members of like-minded groups on campus, such as the social justice and multicultural clubs.
She stressed that the NAACP isn’t just for people of color, pointing out that it was founded by Black and white civil rights advocates.
Cox, a business marketing major who transferred to CU from the Community College of Vermont two years ago, characterized CU students as welcoming. She noted, however, that more work needs to be done to better engage faculty, staff and administrators.
“I think more knowledge needs to come into play, especially when it comes to faculty and staff,” she said. “I feel like they want to be more inclusive and be more open about it, but they’re hesitant.”
She acknowledged that the small population of students of color on campus creates a degree of discomfort among some faculty and staff who are unsure how to connect with those students.
Cox recommended trainings and other opportunities for faculty and staff to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion, noting they are topics that students are already thinking about and bringing up in classes.
“Faculty and staff members, and even administration, they need to just be more open and … just gain knowledge on it,” she said.
Another issue raised by Cox and Edwards is what they allege is the profiling of Black male students by local law enforcement.
“There have been multiple incidents of students of color, specifically males, that are getting pulled over or followed for just unnecessary reasons,” Cox said, adding that she feels the administration hasn’t done enough to address it.
As the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS) embarks on a consolidation process in the coming years that will bring CU, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College under one administrative umbrella, Cox is hopeful the CU’s chapter will be able to leverage some of that momentum to expand the NAACP’s reach across the state.
“I’m hoping more exposure of our chapter will influence other colleges to do the same thing,” she said.
In the meantime, Cox said the chapter is raising awareness around racial issues through events and activities that directly engage the CU community.
One such event is a panel discussion, scheduled for Sept. 23, led by students of color from throughout the state college system.
The event, which is being co-organized by the Rutland chapter of the NAACP, will give students of color an opportunity to share their perspective of going to college in a predominantly white state like Vermont.
Mia Schultz, executive director of the Rutland chapter of the NAACP, said she and other members are excited to collaborate with the new chapter.
“We look forward to teaming up with this motivated chapter in many initiatives in the future,” she stated.
Another goal, Cox said, is receiving official recognition from the Vermont Legislature as the state’s first collegiate chapter of the NAACP. (Cox noted that Middlebury College previously had one, but it was short lived.)
Cox said the work being done at CU and the other three NAACP chapters around the state is happening at a crucial time when Vermont’s demographics are changing.
“Yes, this is a predominantly white state, but diversity is changing all across the country and Vermont is starting to change,” she said. “This is starting to be a home for young people, people of other races, cultures, sexual orientations — where they want to grow a family. … People need to start raising awareness and welcoming that it’s becoming more of a prominent issue, especially in Vermont.”
BRANDON — A local man, already arraigned for alleged hate crimes and federal charges of illegally possessing guns, was charged again Monday after police said he had made violent threats against neighbors in July.
Eric A. Grenier, 39, of Brandon, pleaded not guilty Monday in Rutland criminal court to three misdemeanor charges of criminal threatening.
Grenier, who is already being held because of the federal charges, was ordered not to have guns or other deadly weapons and not to have contact with the people who accused him of making threats.
In an affidavit filed in the case, Chief Christopher Brickell, of the Brandon Police Department, said he met with a resident, Michael Shank, on July 9.
Shank brought national attention to his issues with Grenier after writing an opinion piece, published by USA Today and other media outlets in August, saying he was moving. It ran under the headline, “White extremism is winning in my Vermont town. I’m selling my animal sanctuary and moving.”
The sub-headline said, “The assault-weaponed bullies are winning on my road, and I refuse to weaponize myself to fight back. My town is unsafe if you’re non-white or unarmed.”
Brickell said Shank told him that he has had concerns about Grenier for some time and told him about his plans to sell his animal sanctuary and move. He told Brickell he had tried to draw attention to the use of guns by neighbors but found that other Brandon residents disagreed with him. He said he believed Grenier’s use of guns was a way of “intimidating” him.
“Based upon prior complaints by Shank to police and engagement police have had with Grenier, this would be a very realistic assumption,” Brickell wrote in the affidavit.
Shank told Brickell that he believed Grenier, whose property abuts Shank’s, was firing shots from an assault rifle on July 1 and setting off explosives and firing guns on July 3. He said he hadn’t called police because he was trying to de-escalate tensions with Grenier.
On July 4, the situation got “significantly worse,” Shank told Brickell, which led to him calling police. He said around 10 p.m., he heard a loud sound he believed was gunfire or an explosion. When he went outside to see what had happened, Shank heard what he believed was Grenier saying, “I see you, you cop-calling (expletive.)”
Shank said Grenier later said things like, “Go ahead, Mike, come on over,” “I’m coming for you, mother (expletive,)” and “Dead as (expletive,) swear to God.”
Police responded but did not speak with Eric Grenier. Brickell said officers spoke to his wife, Bobbie-Sue Grenier, to make sure all in the Grenier house were safe before leaving. One Vermont State Police trooper said as he was in the area, he could hear someone yelling, “Come and get it, boys.”
A second affidavit, written by Officer Michael VonSchleusingen, of the Brandon Police Department, describes a second alleged threat made to neighbors. Around 8:40 p.m. July 23, VonSchleusingen spoke to a woman who said Grenier had threatened her, her husband, her brother and a second woman.
The woman’s brother said Grenier’s stepdaughter had driven in front of his home and revved her engine “to cause annoyance.” The brother said he decided to take his dirt bike to Grenier’s home and rev the engine in retaliation.
However, he said when he got there, Grenier had a gun in his hand, so he left. He said he heard gunshots but couldn’t be sure if Grenier had fired the gun at him.
The woman’s husband, her brother and the second woman said Grenier went to their home and threatened them, saying he would “take them.” The second woman showed VonSchleusingen a video she made of the incident.
“I observed E. Grenier standing shirtless in the middle of the roadway, yelling at (the two men and the woman.) Throughout the encounter, E. Grenier taunted (the two men) to engage in a physical fight with him. At one point, E. Grenier yelled, ‘I’ll (expletive) the both of you up right now’ and would call the two men ‘a bunch of (expletive)’ throughout the encounter,” VonSchleusingen wrote.
One of the men said Grenier called them “(racial expletive) lovers” and threatened to “snipe them out.”
VonSchleusingen wrote in his affidavit that “numerous home owners on High Pond Road in Brandon have come forward to the Brandon Police Department to verbalize their fear of E. Grenier.”
The woman who called police provided a written statement in which she called Grenier a “ticking time bomb.”
“It is not fair for my family to be living in fear and be missing out on things because we fear what (Grenier) might do next,” she wrote.
In Rutland County court, he has three pending cases beside the one for which he was arraigned on Monday.
Grenier was arraigned in April 2020 on a felony count of attempted burglary and a felony count of unlawful mischief resulting in damage of more than $1,000; in March on a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of a crash; and in July, he was arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of simple assault.
The latter charge contained language that would make it a hate crime, alleging the Grenier’s “conduct was maliciously motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, color or ancestry.”
Grenier has pleaded not guilty in all the cases as well as the federal charges which allege that he possessed guns despite prior felony convictions which make it illegal for him to own guns.
Each of the counts with which Grenier was charged on Monday are punishable by up to a year in prison.
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