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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Burlington High School to Relocate to Macy's for In-Person Learning

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2020 at 10:26 PM

Burlington High School - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Burlington High School
After months of remote learning, Burlington High School students will return to classrooms early next year in the vacant Macy's building downtown.

Nine school commissioners voted Tuesday night in favor of leasing the former department store for three and a half years while the district decides what to do about cancer-causing chemicals found on campus. Commissioners Monika Ivancic (Ward 7) and Kendra Sowers (North District) abstained; board Chair Clare Wool (Ward 6) also did not cast a vote.

The district will pay $1.2 million the first year, and rent will increase by 3 percent each subsequent year. It will also pay more than $3 million to renovate the building, which is owned by the developers of the adjacent CityPlace Burlington site. Superintendent Tom Flanagan said the district is "aggressively" pursuing state aid to help pay for the new digs.

Commissioner Stephen Carey (Ward 2) said that while it's not ideal, the arrangement gets students back into classrooms as soon as possible and presents creative learning opportunities.

"I'm excited about the potential for a dynamic downtown high school that's connected to the city in the way that none of our schools are," Carey said. "I think our community and our students are going to adapt really well to it."

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Monday, November 16, 2020

COVID-19 Testing Underway for Vermont Teachers, School Staff

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2020 at 10:03 PM

Samples at the Vermont Health Department lab - FILE: OLIVER PARINI ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Oliver Parini ©️ Seven Days
  • Samples at the Vermont Health Department lab
As coronavirus cases continue to reach record highs in Vermont, the Agency of Education and Department of Health embarked on a new initiative this week to offer COVID-19 tests to thousands of K-12 teachers and staff around the state.

The tests are “part of our ongoing offense against the virus,” Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a press conference last week, a “surveillance strategy” that will give the state an idea of how prevalent the coronavirus is in Vermont communities.

This week, asymptomatic personnel at all public schools in the state — as well as at five independent schools chosen because of their geographic location and size of their staff — can take an on-site COVID-19 test. Each school district must have a designated COVID-19 coordinator or school leader to “oversee the logistics of distributing, accepting, logging, boxing and shipping the kits,” said Agency of Education spokesperson Suzanne Sprague.

The Agency of Education is not aware of any other state conducting this kind of school staff surveillance testing, Sprague added.

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School Board to Consider Leasing Macy's as Temporary High School Space

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2020 at 7:35 PM

  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign at BHS
The Burlington School Board on Tuesday will consider approving an agreement to convert the former Macy's store downtown into a high school while the district investigates cancer-causing chemicals found on campus.

District officials have agreed to lease the 150,000-square-foot vacant storefront for $8 per square foot, plus taxes, utilities and insurance, for three and a half years, according to a memo from Superintendent Tom Flanagan.

Rent would cost $1.2 million in year one and would increase by 3 percent each subsequent year. The Cherry Street building is owned by the developers of the CityPlace Burlington project, which is slated for construction on an adjacent parcel.

School commissioners earlier this month agreed to allow Flanagan to pursue a lease but have not yet signed off on its terms. If the deal is approved, the district would also pay more than $3 million to fit up the space before students could move in early next year, according to Dave Farrington, one of the owners.

The district is seeking state and federal funding for the project, Flanagan's memo says.

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Anticipating Holiday Travel, Some Vermont Schools to Go Remote

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2020 at 2:31 PM

  • Rob Donnelly
Amid a surge in coronavirus cases and in anticipation of holiday travel, a cluster of southern Vermont schools will move to remote learning for several weeks.

All schools in the Two Rivers Supervisory Union will hold classes online, beginning after Thanksgiving break until Monday, January 11, superintendent Lauren Fierman wrote in a letter to parents on Sunday.

The supervisory union, which includes the Ludlow/Mount Holly Unified Union School District and Green Mountain Unified Union School District, is comprised of five schools: four elementary schools and one middle/high school. It serves approximately 950 students in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish, Chester, Ludlow and Mount Holly. 

Some staff and families had indicated that they would need to quarantine after the holidays because they were planning to go out of state or have guests from outside of Vermont in their homes, Fierman wrote.

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Monday, October 26, 2020

University of Vermont President Proposes Tuition Freeze

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2020 at 5:05 PM

UVM president Suresh Garimella during Monday's press conference - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • UVM president Suresh Garimella during Monday's press conference
The University of Vermont plans to freeze tuition and room and board costs at current levels, president Suresh Garimella announced Monday, citing both moral and economic motivations.

Garimella, who has now twice recommended tuition freezes since taking over last year, told reporters that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare economic challenges facing families and universities alike. The university's board of trustees must approve the tuition freeze in the spring.

"College education is one of the largest expenditures families face," Garimella said. "It is an expenditure that is increasingly important to securing a young person's future success, but one that is becoming out of reach for many families."

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Three Chittenden County Schools Among Five in Vermont With Recent COVID Cases

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2020 at 3:36 PM

Officials have recently reported more cases in schools - ROB DONNELLY
  • Rob Donnelly
  • Officials have recently reported more cases in schools
Public schools in Chittenden County remained coronavirus-free since reopening on September 8 — until this week. Over the last few days, three public schools in Vermont’s most populous county reported positive COVID-19 cases, though none have closed as a result.

The Department of Health is also currently investigating school-based COVID-19 cases in Windsor and Manchester, as well as cases connected to youth and adult hockey teams that play at Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

Before last weekend, the state had recorded just six total coronavirus cases at five different schools. Four of those cases were classified as “recovered” and two were listed as “current," according to data the Department of Health last updated on October 9.

Vermont’s school-related COVID-19 cases are well below other northern New England states, Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said Tuesday. In New Hampshire, there have been more than 100 cases of coronavirus in 68 schools since the school year started. And in Maine, he said, there have been 71 cases associated with its schools.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

UVM Reverses Course on Most Cuts to Lecturer Pay, Workloads

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2020 at 3:32 PM

The University of Vermont campus - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • The University of Vermont campus
After months of pressure from students and employees, the University of Vermont has reversed course on a series of workload and pay cuts impacting nearly 70 lecturers, the faculty union announced on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, dozens of lecturers — full-time, non-tenure-track employees — were informed that they would be teaching and getting paid for only three-fourths of their normal course load this academic year.

Sixty-three of the 68 impacted employees have since been reinstated to full workloads, according to the union, United Academics, while the remaining five have been “partially restored” or are teaching roughly 88 percent of their traditional course load.

"The administration was asking for more and offering less, and had no financial or curricular justification for cutting these lecturers' jobs,” said Julie Roberts, faculty union president, in a press release celebrating the decision. “This move caused unnecessary stress and upheaval for these faculty members and their families. I'm relieved that, for most of our colleagues, we were able to reverse this in time."

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Middlebury College Faces Class-Action Suit Over Tuition Refunds

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2020 at 2:33 PM

McCardell Bicentennial Hall at Middlebury - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • McCardell Bicentennial Hall at Middlebury
Updated at 7:30 p.m.

A class-action lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court accuses Middlebury College of failing to adequately reimburse students sent home in the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The complaint says the college violated its contract with plaintiff Henry Mooers, of Norwell, Mass., and other students who paid for a semester's worth of in-person learning and other services that they did not receive.

Students who paid tuition expecting a "first-rate education and an on-campus, in person educational" experience were instead "provided a materially deficient and insufficient alternative," the suit says.

If a federal judge certifies the suit's class-action status, it would cover all Middlebury students who were sent home in the spring, as well as those affected during "any other semester" in which COVID-19 forces classes online.
That would be a broader class than that being sought in a similar lawsuit filed in April against the University of Vermont. The suit could also have wide-ranging financial impacts if a spike in COVID cases forced Middlebury to again shutter its campus.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Hazardous Air Forces Burlington High School to Close for Entire Semester

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2020 at 10:32 PM

A sign in front of Burlington High School - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign in front of Burlington High School
Burlington High School and the Burlington Technical Center will remain closed for the remainder of the semester as the district investigates the presence of carcinogenic chemicals in the air.

Superintendent Tom Flanagan's announcement on Wednesday night follows the revelation last week that the district detected high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the air of F Building, which houses classrooms for Burlington Technical Center and for special education students.
The school year had just begun when Flanagan announced on September 9 that classes would pivot to all-virtual instruction until September 21. That date is now pushed back at least four months.

"I know this news must come as a shock to many of you, and I know that many students are likely very disappointed to once again be missing out on so many in-person connections," Flanagan wrote in an email to parents on Wednesday. "I want to assure you that we will work as fast and as hard as we can to get students back into our buildings as soon as we can."

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In Reversal, Winooski School Police Officer to Return to Campus Armed

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2020 at 6:36 PM

On the Winooski school campus - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • On the Winooski school campus
Members of the Winooski School Board approved a motion on Tuesday that will allow the campus police officer to come to work carrying a gun, effectively reversing an earlier decision that called for him to be unarmed and out of uniform.

The 4-1 vote means Officer Jason Ziter will return to school on Thursday driving an unmarked car, with a firearm, and wearing a "soft" uniform of khaki pants and a Winooski police polo shirt.

In a press release on Wednesday, the school district explained that Ziter would be armed per "the Winooski Police Department’s General Order issued by the chief of police, which states the SRO is an active duty police officer while serving the school district."

Since school started on September 8, Ziter had been reporting to the Winooski Police Department — and not to campus — because the school board accepted student demands over the summer that he be unarmed. The city had held firm that Ziter must be armed at school to fulfill his duties as a Winooski police officer.
Until this week, the school board had asserted that he must be unarmed. They had even recommitted to the idea at a special September 6 meeting.

But at Tuesday's meeting, board member Mike Decarreau said the governing body should have done community outreach and consulted with the police department before accepting the Winooski Students for Anti-Racism's demands about the school resource officer.

Board member Margaret Bass expressed frustration that the board had not adhered to proper process in making their August 11 decision. “We did not do what we should have done as elected officials,” she said.

Bass added that it was unconscionable that the board had made the decision without consulting with Winooski Police Chief Rick Hebert. Bass also spoke of her appreciation for Officer Ziter.

“We are deeply indebted to him for his work, but he does not do his work because he wears a gun. He does the work because of his heart,” she said.

Winooski School District parent teacher organization president Sarah McGowan-Frieje told board members that she was glad they admitted to not following their own policies in failing to get community input about the demands. She suggested that all of the students’ demands should be revisited, following proper procedure, before implementation.
At the end of the meeting, the board voted to accept a motion that overturned its acceptance of the students’ demand concerning the officer. Board member Alex Yin was the sole no vote, and Bass characterized her yes vote as “fraught.”

Bass, who is Black, said that there was a good lesson for students to learn in the board’s messy process. “Racism doesn’t go away just because you make a demand,” she said. “These battles have been hard fought in this nation since before I was born until now.”
In the coming months, the school district said in its press release on Wednesday, the board plans to use a third-party facilitator to lead a public education and community engagement process to discuss “the future of safety and security at WSD, including the SRO position.” Members of the Winooski Students for Anti-Racism, city employees and school district employees would all be part of the process.

After the meeting, Winooski High School math teacher Luke Dorfman wrote in an email to Seven Days that "the default setting of 'status quo' ... continues to amplify certain voices over others, centering the interests of people with power and privilege over those of people who have been most disempowered and marginalized.” 

The board, he wrote, "has now publicly stated its policies and procedures are racist.

“Well, if we are committed to being an anti-racist district, then we need to change those policies and procedures,” wrote Dorfman, an ally of the Winooski Students for Anti-Racism. “What is the district leadership’s roadmap to make this happen?”

Winooski High School alumni Indra Acharya, one of the organizers of the Winooski Students for Anti-Racism, said in a phone call on Wednesday evening that he viewed the board's decision as "a betrayal of trust," but he was not surprised by their actions.

He said it confirmed his "worst fear" — that the school board and school leadership team "are not truly ready for systemic change."

Clarification, September 17, 2020: This story has been updated to more fully detail Dorfman's statement.

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