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School Commissioners
School board chair threatened

The Rutland City Police Department is investigating threatening messages sent to City Board of School Commissioners Chairwoman Alison Notte.

Notte received a pair of electronic messages making threats to her personal safety on Thursday. The messages, which included vulgar language, hate speech and threats of physical violence, are in response to the School Board’s decision to change the Rutland City Public Schools mascot.

On Tuesday, the board voted 6-4 to cease use of the Raider name and arrowhead symbol by Feb. 9, 2021. As chairwoman, Notte did not cast a vote herself, but supports the change.

Notte received two messages Thursday — one email and one text message.

It reads: “u r going get urs u bully b---- troll Allison Notte u democrats can dish it out but cant take it i know where you live b---- im gonna p--- u up,” the text read.


Notte’s husband, Rep. William Notte, represents Rutland’s House 5-4 district.

The anonymous text, which has a Los Angeles area code, was sent using TextPort, an online text messaging service. The email was sent anonymously via ProtonMail, an encrypted email service.

Speaking Friday, Notte said the threats demonstrate “a lack of respect for the democratic process that our country exists on.”

She said the threats should make people who are against the mascot change pause and examine its racist origins as well as how white supremacy emboldens people to “go to great lengths to protect that.”

“I think it is important for more mainstream people to recognize the disconnect, and disassociate themselves from perpetuating these behaviors,” Notte said.

She said in addition to alerting the police, she has reported the matter to the state attorney general’s office.

Notte said she has also spoken to the RCPS administration over concerns for the safety of students who have spoken out in favor of changing the mascot. She noted that at least one student has been the target of harassment on social media.

Given that the threatening email was sent to Notte’s official RCPS School Board address, administrators are looking at security protocols to make sure no students or teachers are targeted through the school system.

On Friday, RCPD Sgt. Charles Whitehead confirmed that Notte had reported the threats to the department and it was investigating the situation.

“We’re definitely going to look into it and use all the resources that we can to try to figure out where the messages are coming from,” he said.

Based on the anonymous origins of the messages, Whitehead noted it might be difficult to identify the sender or senders, but said the department will reach out to other agencies with the necessary technological resources.

“We will incorporate anybody that we can that’ll help us with this,” he said.

The debate about changing the mascot has become increasingly contentious around the community in recent weeks as the board has heard presentations and feedback in board meetings as well as a virtual public forum.

An online petition to keep the mascot as it is has gathered more than 2,000 signatures. A paper petition is being circulated around the city as well.

Also, supporters launched a Facebook page, “Raider Strong,” on Thursday. Its description reads, “Parents, students, citizens and alumni coming together to save the Raider name and arrow head.”

An in-person meeting to “save the Raider name” is reportedly scheduled for next month at the Rutland Recreation Community Center.

Last month at a Board of Aldermen meeting, Alderman Thomas DePoy called for a citywide vote on the matter. The question of a vote was sent to the General Committee for further discussion, but Committee Chairwoman Melinda Humphrey has declined to take it up unless compelled to do so, deeming it a School Board matter and, therefore, outside aldermen’s purview.

On Monday, the Herald reported that students at Rutland High School had yet to have the opportunity to meaningfully weigh in on the issue. At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Bill Olsen and RHS Principal Greg Schillinger acknowledged this fact — which they attributed to being overwhelmed working to reopen schools during a pandemic — and expressed a preference to have more time to engage the student body.

In response, the motion before the board to retire the mascot was subsequently amended to move the deadline for the change from Dec. 8 to Feb. 9.

In a letter to the editor received by the Herald Friday, Notte addressed the threats made against her while restating the need to change the mascot and defending the process by which the Board made its decision to do so.

“It is hard to ignore the pattern (in Vermont and nationally) of threats against elected officials and/or people speaking up for social justice perpetuated by individuals and groups that feel threatened at the potential loss of their white privilege,” she wrote.

Notte continued, “Threats regarding the mascot discussion show how prevalent racism is and how emboldened white supremacists are. Rutland can do better. Please let passion and commitment be the identity of Rutland not a racist mascot. The passion and commitment many community members share is what can build Rutland up and tear down the walls of racism.”



Carved pumpkins are seen on display in the window in the historic Mead Building at the corner of Center Street and Merchants Row.

Scary season

Hockey rink outbreak now at 43 cases

MONTPELIER — An outbreak of the novel coronavirus connected to Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier has now infected 43 people, according to state officials.

That’s up from the 34 cases reported Tuesday.

Also, Union Elementary School will teach remotely next week after a seventh person there tested positive for the virus.

At Gov. Phil Scott’s regular Friday news conference, Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said the outbreak at the hockey rink has been connected to six positive cases at two colleges, 12 cases within seven K-12 schools, another 12 cases within seven work places and two cases at two hospitals. The outbreak involves youth and adult hockey teams that use the rink, as well as broomball teams, though officials believe the virus may have initially spread during off-ice activities such as car pooling.

The commissioner didn’t identify all the locations impacted, but one of the schools is the elementary school in Montpelier.

That school had seen six cases tied to the outbreak, and saw the first instance of in-school transmission of the virus in the state. All of those cases were contained to the same pod and all involved in that pod are now isolating or quarantining.

Montpelier-Roxbury Public School District Superintendent Libby Bonesteel announced Thursday a seventh case had been discovered. This case is not believed to be connected to the six other cases. In response, Bonesteel said the elementary school will conduct classwork remotely until Nov. 2.

“We have planned for this and our excellent staff at UES will be ready. The virtual week will allow the contact tracers time to do their work and allow results from future tests to come back,” the superintendent wrote in a letter to parents Friday.

If plans change, she said parents will be notified.

In a follow-up letter, the superintendent said Montpelier High School will host a pop-up testing site from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday. Testing will take place in the school’s parking lot. Those looking to be tested have to register at www.healthvermont.gov/response/coronavirus-covid-19/testing-covid-19. Bonesteel said the pop-up testing site at the Barre City Auditorium Thursday will also have increased capacity for those who can’t get tested Wednesday. These tests are free and do not require health insurance.

Since the decision was made to open school back up again, state officials have warned there would be an increase in cases and outbreaks. They also expected more cases of the virus as the temperature dips and more activities are done inside.

Dan French, state secretary of education, said state officials have revised health guidance for schools that is expected to be released soon. The secretary said the guidance will go into effect in mid-November.

He called the changes a “tightening” to adjust to colder temperatures and more indoor activities. This includes distancing requirements for cafeterias. Also, students and staff will have to answer travel questions as part of the daily health screening. French said this is to make sure those at schools are complying with the state’s travel guidance.

Depending on how many cases of the virus there are in out-of-state counties, those who leave Vermont may have to quarantine for two weeks upon returning here. A travel map, updated every Tuesday, can be found on the website of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

The secretary said an update on guidance for winter sports is expected next week.



Vermont Supreme Court uphold no-bail hold in Fair Haven assault case

The Vermont Supreme Court has rejected a claim by the defendant in an assault case that he should get bail because of pandemic-related trial delays.

David M. Downing, 32, of Whitehall, New York, pleaded not guilty in Rutland criminal court in September to two felony burglary charged, a felony charge of attempted aggravated assault and misdemeanor charges of simple assault, unlawful mischief and violation of an abuse prevention order. He was ordered held without bail after a hearing earlier this month in which Judge David Fenster found Downing posed a risk of violence.

The Vermont Constitution limits the time a defendant who is not facing life in prison from being held without bail pending trial for more than 60 days. If a trial has not commenced at the end of the 60 days, according to the constitution, the court must immediately schedule a bail hearing.

Downing argued that with no jury trials being scheduled within 60 days of his hearing, there was no way his trial would take place within 60 days and therefore he could not be held without bail. The Vermont Supreme Court however, found that a guarantee the trial would not start in 60 days simply meant that at the end of that time prosecutors could seek another bail hearing.

“The provisions on their face contemplate the scheduling of a bail hearing when the sixty days have elapsed without a trial commencing; they do not purport to require a bail hearing when it becomes apparent that the sixty days will likely elapse without a trial commencing,” the decision reads.

The charge stemmed from an incident in which police said Downing broke into the Fair Haven home of the ex-husband of a woman he said was his girlfriend and assaulted the man. Court records indicate he was arrested in New York following a standoff in which he wielded a small knife and police evacuated surrounding residences.

The Supreme Court rejected a claim by Downing that there was no evidence he had intended to inflict serious bodily injury during his attack on the man.

“Defendant’s kicking in the door and initiating the assault, the sheer number of punches and duration of the serial punching, the fact that defendant directed the blows at ex-husband’s head, the fact that defendant was on top of ex-husband, and defendant’s act of lifting up ex-husband’s upper body and slamming it to the ground, among other factors, could all support an inference that defendant sought to inflict serious bodily injury,” the decision reads.



The time was Wright

When 94-year-old Rutland native George Wright was in the Air Force and stationed in Texas more than seven decades ago as a teenager, he had a whirlwind romance the led to a quick marriage, an equally quick divorce — and a son that he never met.

Until a few weeks ago.

After finally connecting online in March, Wright met his now 74-year-old son, John Gibbs, in person in Rutland, and the two have been essentially unpacking nearly a century of living separate lives since.

Testicular cancer contracted by one of Gibbs’ two sons and a genealogy-loving daughter-in-law’s mother ultimately led to the union. Gibbs said family members wanted to learn more about the medical history of his side of the family they had no clue about, though it would take 13 years after the 2007 the cancer diagnosis.

At a camp in the Tinmouth woods, the duo talked about their eerily similar military pasts, their equal disdain for Brussels sprouts and their unique genetic propensity to sneeze after they brush their teeth.

“And we both forget things,” joked Gibbs.

But that’s to be expected with a combined 168 years of life.

They learned that they both like football, New England Patriots for Wright and Dallas Cowboys for his Texan son.

They both like an occasional cocktail, but Wright prefers gin while Gibbs is a scotch guy.

Travel trailers are a commonality too, though Wright was far more avid — annually pulling his Airstream from Mendon to Alaska to fish for the summer well into his 80s.

And both skied, although Wright was more avid there, too, stopping only after skiing the top of Pico on his 80th birthday.

And get this: Wright married his second wife, Marion, on Dec. 25, and when Gibbs’ mom remarried — it was on Dec. 25 as well.

They learned they both are introverts. Both have a dry sense of humor and both pause before answering questions.

They also hold their emotions pretty well.

There were no tears and little outward emotion, with the duo choosing to throw out comical one-liners on the tough, emotional questions, rather than dig deep. Like when asked what’s next for the relationship, Wright quickly dodged and ducked saying, “We’ll exchange Christmas cards, I don’t know.”

But again, maybe that’s to be expected. After all, they’re really just getting to know each other. They did offer a hint, however, that while the emotions might not be showing outwardly, they were brewing.

When nudged a little further over a piece of cake and coffee, Gibbs said to his dad “what makes it hard for you are feelings that can’t be spoken.”

Wright nodded, and said, “It’ll come out one of these days.”

Why now?

The romance that led to Gibbs’ birth likely ended when Wright brought his young bride from Texas to Rutland, by train, during a break from the service. He said he doesn’t feel that she was very well received by his family, which likely led to the end.

“I always felt she got too cool a reception,” Wright said. “I also think she couldn’t stand the thought of being a Vermonter, being a Texan.”

Wright said despite the fall foliage beauty, his son feels equally claustrophobic here.

“He says we got too many trees,” Wright joked.

Although his former wife made him aware of his son, Wright said he was told by her to essentially stay out of his life.

“It was part of the agreement,” Wright said, looking down and perhaps reflecting on that decision. “She didn’t want me to have any part of your bringing up.”

So Wright moved on, got remarried to a World War II nurse and had three children. Ironically, a story in the Rutland Herald celebrating George and Marion Wright’s 70th anniversary would be a major clue in Gibbs finding his dad. Marion is 97, and was shopping at the Vermont Country Store with Gibbs wife, Elaine, while the duo shared their story.

After the separation and divorce, Gibbs’ mom moved on too, remarrying when he was 4. His stepfather eventually adopted him and he took the Gibbs name, and that’s significant, because about 15 years ago, Wright said he began searching for his long-lost son.

“That’s why I couldn’t find him!” he said, his voice rising and showing the anguish of the failed search.

After trying and hitting dead ends, he gave up and moved on — again.

Wright said he didn’t really know why after all those years he decided to start looking at that point.

“Just curiosity I guess,” he said. “I wanted to find the ex-wife and find the boy, but I was worried that I’d find him in the gutter somewhere.”

That was a theme both men said worried them about finding each other.

Tough call

Although he said his mom told him when he was a boy about his dad named George Wright, he said he didn’t ever try to find him. He was told to stay away and the son, who would go on to have a lengthy Air Force career as a pilot including 2 years in Vietnam, is admittedly the type of person to always move forward, not look back.

He said he was a very “self-centered person” for much of his life, until he found Christ in 1997, in part because one of his sons was spiraling out of control with drugs and alcohol. He said he started praying at the dinner table and the son embraced religion, too, and straightened up.

But still, as the years went on, both said it was the fear of what they might find if they did connect that hindered the desire to try.

Neither wanted to find out the other was essentially a bum. Some things are best left alone, they agreed.

Gibbs said he worried that he’d find his father destitute or an alcoholic.

“My father was an alcoholic, a bum,” Wright said, explaining that he shared the same fear. “I was afraid of finding someone who hasn’t had a particularly good life.”

But the cancer diagnosis coupled by the sleuthing relative who found the anniversary notice made Gibbs decide it was time. Not long after finding the anniversary story, Gibbs said he found his dad, but didn’t want to call. He found some “parent-who-doesn’t-know-you” letter guidelines on the 23andMe DNA website and used that to write to his dad.

That started it, though interestingly neither man could remember details of the first actual conversation.

Before long, they were Zooming with family members, orchestrated by Wright’s 70-year-old son, Brett, and starting the process of getting to know each other. They began learning about children and siblings and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They learned of their oddly similar military career trajectories and unexplainable little things like the after tooth-brushing sneezing.

And while COVID-19 pushed back plans to meet, that changed two weeks ago when they would unite, for the first time in person.

Gibbs said what struck him is how welcoming Wright’s family was, and he said he realized that coming here was “more for him than for me, because he’s wondered all his life.”

But again, when talking about that first in-person encounter, neither man flinched about emotions.

Wright joked, “I wondered who the hell he was.”

“And as he said, with our masks on we look a lot alike,” Gibbs quipped in return.

But Richard Blow (the reporter’s father and a long-time friend of Wright) said Wright confided in him earlier that he couldn’t wait to see his son because “he just wanted to give him a hug.”

When Blow revealed that during the camp interview, with Gibbs fresh off quarantine, Wright said, “maybe when you leave,” followed by another hearty laugh.

Family members have loved the uniting of father and son, both said. Their respective wives get along great and Gibbs has hit it off with his two new half-brothers and a half-sister, especially 70-year-old Brett.

Brett said his dad confided in him about 5 years ago that he had a half-brother, and he immediately thought they should try to find him. Having tried before, however, he said Wright was reluctant.

“I figured it’s something I’d have to do after he passed,” Brett said.

That changed when Gibbs’ letter arrived, he said.

But even then, his dad was hesitant.

“He said ‘I think it might be a scam,’” Brett said. “I told him, ‘I think we need to respond to it.’”

Brett said he’s glad they did. He has loved learning about his brother and getting to know extended family members. And he talked about the commitment Gibbs made to make it happen, especially having to quarantine for a week upon arrival. Gibbs was equally praising of Brett’s work to make the union happen.

“We’re amazed how much effort he put into this to make it perfect,” Gibbs said.

And while Gibbs’ mom is still alive, he said she is deep in the throes of dementia, and he has not told her about kindling a relationship with Wright.

“I don’t think she would mind, though,” he said, revealing that she doesn’t even know him most days now.

Marion Wright, George’s wife, also said she is glad about the connection and said Gibbs and his wife “are two of the nicest people you’d ever want to know.”

“And I know he’s tickled to death,” she said of her husband. “I’m sure it’s been in the back of his mind all these years.”

While in Vermont, in part because of quarantine restrictions, the duo did a lot of sight-seeing foliage rides in separate cars, using walkie-talkies to communicate. With quarantine up, they were then able to hang out together in close proximity, and Wright said he planned to take his son and his wife out to a nice lobster dinner at Weathervane.

“They have wicked-cheap twin lobsters,” he said, another one-liner flying.

But while the men held emotions pretty tight during the interview, which they said is normal for both of them, Gibbs did seem to be looking at his father for assurance in some of his answers and eagerly helped him from the car into the camp and back, like a good son would.

And though Wright joked about the relationship continuing with a Christmas card, Gibbs did get a little serious and spoke about why it made sense to do it now and hinted at the future with his dad.

He said the timing was simply right, and he doesn’t fret about lost time together.

“I feel it brings him a lot of peace. That’s what I get out of it,” he said. “And this is not the one and only trip. My sons are both excited to meet you.”

And while there were a lot of similarities, the two are coming at the impending presidential election from opposing viewpoints, though they said they decided not to discuss it.

Despite being a conservative, Wright said he can’t stand the president.

Gibbs is a big Trump fan.

“He told me he hopes he lives long enough to vote for Biden, and I told him I hope I live long enough to cancel his vote,” Gibbs said with a laugh.

David Blow, a Chittenden native, is a media and communication professor at Castleton University and freelance writer.

Rail Topper

People will talk

Garry DuFour, of North Rupert, documents military personnel experience and after-effects as witness to atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. A3

Varieties of winter squash are displayed at the Dog River Farm in Berlin earlier this week.

Jeff Tolbert, foreground, in “Ransom” by Richard W. Robson at Lost Nation Theater in 2013. With him, from left, are Carolyn Wesley, G. Richard Ames and Mary McNulty.