Tensions among School Board members boiled over Tuesday night after an attempt to rescind a previous vote to retire the Rutland City Public Schools Raider name and arrowhead symbol resulted in shouting and a call for Chairwoman Alison Notte’s resignation.
Last month, the Rutland City Board of School Commissioners voted 6-4 to cease use of the Raider name and arrowhead symbol.
The decision has been met with public backlash and claims that students and taxpayers have been shut out of the discussion.
Board members have become targets of harassment as well. Last month, Notte received two anonymous electronic messages, containing vulgar language, hate speech and threats of physical violence. A week later, Commissioner Brittany Cavacas was allegedly spat on and called a “white supremacist” by an individual outside Hannaford supermarket in Rutland Town.
The meeting, which was transmitted on Zoom, took a contentious turn when Commissioner Hurley Cavacas requested to address the board on a point of clarification.
Cavacas, who claimed he had “reached out the secretary of state’s office,” said he and his daughter — fellow Commissioner Brittany Cavacas — “are not in conflict on the board.”
Notte had acknowledged the issue of a potential conflict of interest regarding the Cavacases during an interview with the Herald last month.
Cavacas then claimed the secretary of state’s office was exploring “a potential other conflict.”
He later revealed that conflict involved Commissioner Kevin Kiefaber, whose daughter Marisa Kiefaber is a member of the group advocating for the Raider change.
“I should have a letter (from the secretary of state’s office) for our next meeting, clarifying my conflict and questioning his,” Cavacas said.
He then went on to address Notte, saying, “contrary to my board chair’s belief, I am not considered a racist and a white supremacist.”
“I have never ever in my life been treated so badly on a board than I have with this one,” he said, adding that he has consulted his attorney. “Something has to be rectified, and I want it done tonight.”
Cavacas’ comments appear it be in response to a letter published in the Herald on Oct. 27 in which Notte defended her support of the board’s decision to retire the name and symbol despite receiving threats of physical violence.
“Threats regarding the mascot discussion show how prevalent racism is and how emboldened white supremacists are,” she wrote.
Notte did not single out Cavacas or anyone else in her letter.
Also, Cavacas alluded to “written communications” he has received calling for Notte’s resignation.
While he did not request her resignation at the time, he said he expected a full apology.
Previously, Cavacas alleged he was the target of political intimidation in response to his opposition to the change, citing a Facebook post in which a RCPS employee put a call out for people to run for the School Board and Board of Aldermen. That claim was unsubstantiated with the board’s legal counsel, which determined there were no policy violations or improper threats made.
Later during the Old Business portion of the meeting, RHS Principal Greg Schillinger provided the board with an update of the “school mascot process.”
Schillinger reported that more nearly 60 students have expressed interest in being involved in the process.
During the subsequent discussion, Commissioner Erin Shimp attempted to introduce a motion “to rescind the Raiders motion from the last meeting based on three specific things: questionable communications, some policy violations within the board and some intellectual property, and I would like a cease-and-desist request on anybody continuing to pursue this issue.”
Notte responded to the motion saying, “Actually, that’s not a point of order.”
Shimp and Notte exchanged a brief back-and-forth before Board Clerk Joanne Pencak called for a point of order.
Cavacas then interjected saying, “So she can cut us off? … No.”
Pencak noted there was no motion on the floor.
Notte briefly regained control, stating, “There’s no motion on the floor, currently. There is not an action item on the agenda. And the motion can be made to overturn it by someone that spoke in the positive. Those are Robert’s Rules of Order.”
As Notte was speaking, Cavacas attempted to make a motion calling for her step down as board chairwoman.
Notte did not acknowledge Cavacas’ motion.
Brittany Cavacas then spoke up telling Notte to “mute yourself, because that’s the respectful thing to do, right?”
Notte pressed on, advising the board that Shimp’s motion could be placed on a future agenda.
Hurley Cavacas interrupted Notte again, saying, “Alison, shut up. I’m talking now, not you.”
Notte stopped Cavacas, telling him he did not have the floor.
“I am following Robert’s Rules of Order. And you can say whatever you want that I am not, but I am. This is how the board is run. This is how the board has been run,” she said.
Notte restated that Shimp’s motion could be put on a future agenda, but noted that, “to retake up the motion, per Robert’s Rules, it needs to be someone that was on the affirmative side.”
Shimp then accused Notte of not giving a proper explanation of how to make a “friendly amendment” to the motion to retire the name and symbol at last month’s meeting. At that time, Shimp asked Kiefaber to make a friendly amendment to his motion that would retain the Raider name but eliminate the arrowhead. Kiefaber declined.
Shimp said, “The entire board did not have the ability to second.”
“A friendly (amendment) can be made as long as the person who made the motion is willing to amend it. Otherwise, is a different circumstance,” Notte said.
Shimp took issue with Notte’s interpretation.
According to Robert’s Rules of Order, “a motion may be amended as a ‘friendly amendment’ if both the first and second of the main motion agree to the amended language. If they do not, the amended motion is voted on and then the board returns to the main motion.”
Shimp and Notte’s discussion was cut short when Hurley Cavacas interrupted to talk again about conflicts of interest on the board.
Pencak stopped Cavacas, telling him he was out of order.
“And you are out of order with your letter, (about) which I’m still waiting for an apology,” he said to Notte.
Notte attempted to continue, but Cavacas talked over her until Pencak cut him off, stating, “You need to stop. As the clerk, this has to end. Wait until you’re called upon. We don’t argue like this, Hurley.”
The rest of the meeting progressed without incident.
The next regular meeting of the School Board is scheduled for Dec. 8.