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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Burlington High School Could Be Demolished After More Contamination Found

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 8:20 PM

Warnings at Burlington High School - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Warnings at Burlington High School
A series of tests have revealed extensive chemical contamination on Burlington High School’s campus that could necessitate a complete tear down.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, superintendent Tom Flanagan said that cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in the buildings’ window caulking, block and brick walls, floor-tile adhesive and concrete foundation — as well as in the air and in the soil under and surrounding the school.

“Unfortunately, at each step of the process, we find more materials with PCBs,” Flanagan told the school board. “I’m growing increasingly uneasy about the extent of PCB contamination.”

He said that remediation of the chemicals would cost an estimated $7 million to $12 million — and even that might not reduce the levels of airborne PCBs to below what the state has deemed safe.

The chemicals were found last year as the district prepared for a voter-approved $70 million project to overhaul the high school and the tech center.

But the district shuttered much of the campus, located off of North Avenue in the city’s New North End, the day before classes were to begin last September after testing showed PCBs in some of the buildings.

Queen City high schoolers learned almost fully remotely until March, when they began attending classes two days a week at a former Macy’s department store downtown. The school district funded a renovation of the building and is operating there under a three-and-a-half-year lease it signed in December.
Once a Macy's, now a school - FILE: CAT CUTILLO ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Cat Cutillo ©️ Seven Days
  • Once a Macy's, now a school
Initially, district leaders thought it would take until late summer to figure out the extent of the PCB contamination and decide how to move forward. But Flanagan said that the latest testing results should spur the board to make a decision as early as next month.

“The purpose of tonight really is to make very clear that there’s a serious problem in this project, and we need to take action sooner rather than later,” he told the 12-member school board on Tuesday.
Board members expressed their concerns about the most recent findings.

“Obviously we’ve been trying to patch a sinking ship, so what is it going to take for you guys to let us know this is actually the Titanic?” said school commissioner Jean Waltz. “It just seems like it’s getting worse.”

Commissioner Jeff Wick flagged the high costs for PCB mitigation and suggested that it was time to “stop the bleed” by abandoning the $70 million renovation and moving forward with a plan to build an entirely new high school.

Unclear is whether a new school would — or could — be built on the current campus, or at a different city location.

“I’m sitting here having an anxiety attack because I’m thinking, Where would we go?” commissioner Martine Gulick said. “Maybe you all have information that I don’t have, but that scares me.”

Tom Peterson, a consultant hired to oversee the $70 million renovation project, suggested it could be problematic to build a new high school on the current site. Even if PCB mitigation can be handled cost-effectively, the Institute Road campus is 57 years old and, with PCBs in the soil and in the air, there would be long-term costs for monitoring the buildings and potentially additional remediation.
Building a new facility at a different location would be “a huge lift,” he said, but “at the end of that, you will have a beautiful new high school.”

Flanagan capped the discussion by addressing the board. “It’s no one’s fault that we’re here,” the superintendent said. “We learned about this problem through doing our due diligence.”

As leaders, he said, the school commissioners are being tasked with making hard decisions.

“There are ways out of this and into a high school that we can be proud of,” said Flanagan, “and we need to stay positive and optimistic and know that it’s our responsibility to keep our community safe, and to keep doing this work together.”

The school board’s Building Construction Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday to discuss the issue further.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Winooski Schools Will Keep Police Officer Next Year; Burlington Scales Back the Position

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2021 at 9:25 PM

A student inside the Winooski school building in 2019 - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • A student inside the Winooski school building in 2019
After months of uncertainty, the Winooski School Board voted on Wednesday to keep a police officer at its school building next year. The 4-1 vote also called for the creation of a group that will make recommendations by November about the police position for the 2022-23 school year.

The vote came one day after neighboring Burlington voted to remove its two officers from city school buildings. While one position will be eliminated, the other officer will be stationed at the Burlington Police Department unless there’s an emergency. That officer will wear a polo shirt and khaki pants, known as a “soft” uniform, when coming to schools for scheduled events.

An 11-member School Safety Task Force met regularly from last October to February, then proposed 10 measures aimed at promoting equity and inclusion in the Burlington School District. The removal of the officers was one.

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Amid Uproar Against Garimella, UVM Warns a Faculty Critic

Posted By on Mon, Mar 29, 2021 at 11:07 PM

UVM president Suresh Garimella - FILE: MOLLY WALSH ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Molly Walsh ©️ Seven Days
  • UVM president Suresh Garimella
University of Vermont faculty and students condemned its administration’s austerity measures and president Suresh Garimella’s lack of transparency in a press conference on Monday, the second event of its kind since December.

Four months after the University of Vermont announced faculty layoffs and sweeping cuts to its humanities and geology programs, nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition declaring no confidence in Garimella. The petition, started by a coalition of faculty and students called UVM United Against the Cuts, charges that his administration has effectively manufactured a budget crisis by siphoning money away from the College of Arts and Sciences.

 According to faculty, the administration’s chief tactic thus far has been to ignore the dissent, with one exception. In early March, Nancy Welch, a tenured English professor who has been involved in protesting the cuts, shared a link to the petition with members of the faculty union and the English department. A week later, College of Arts and Sciences dean Bill Falls summoned Welch to a meeting to discuss what he deemed her “unprofessional” use of her university email account.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

UVM Professor's Viral Video Prompts Calls for His Resignation

Posted By on Tue, Mar 16, 2021 at 11:13 AM

  • Screenshot
Updated 12:55 p.m.

University of Vermont students and faculty members are calling for the resignation of professor Aaron Kindsvatter in response to a video he posted last week, in which he claimed that he feels ostracized for being white.

On March 8, Kindsvatter, a professor of counseling in the College of Education and Social Services, uploaded the video to YouTube, titled “Racism and the Secular Religion at the University of Vermont.” In the nine-minute video, which has since received more than 15,000 views, Kindsvatter asserted that he “first heard of whiteness” when a faculty colleague “offered to help [him] with it, like it was some kind of disease,” as he put it. “It was a dehumanizing experience,” he said.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Burlington High School Opens Downtown Campus in Former Macy's

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2021 at 1:36 PM

Burlington School Board chair Clare Wool - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Burlington School Board chair Clare Wool
After almost a year with no school to call their own, Burlington High School students have a home base. On Tuesday, school leaders and local politicians gathered to celebrate the opening of a downtown school campus, in the Cherry Street building that once housed a Macy’s department store.

Students will return to in-person learning there on Thursday, with half attending classes on Mondays and Thursdays, half on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesday will be a remote-learning day.

“It’s amazing to think that we are standing in what used to be a department store; that we’re greeting people where we used to buy winter coats; reading books where they once sold fine China; taking phone calls in converted changing rooms; and learning science in the old suit racks,” Superintendent Tom Flanagan said at the ceremony.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Vermont Law School Receives $3 Million Grant for Restorative Justice Program

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2021 at 6:29 PM

Vermont Law School - FILE: BEN DEFLORIO
  • FIle: Ben Deflorio
  • Vermont Law School

Vermont Law School will receive a $3 million federal grant for its National Center on Restorative Justice, an initiative focused on providing training and advocating for criminal justice reform, Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) office announced Tuesday.

The center, a collaboration with the University of Vermont, the University of San Diego and the U.S. Department of Justice, is intended to become a hub for research and training in restorative justice practices, which emphasize direct reconciliation with victims and repairing the relationships between offenders and their communities.

Last spring, the center launched with a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Leahy, who is now chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has championed the project and played a key role in securing both rounds of funding.

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Bill Would Bar Black Lives Matter and Other Flags From Flying at Schools

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2021 at 11:01 AM

Joelyn Mensah raising the Black Lives Matter flag at Montpelier High School - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Joelyn Mensah raising the Black Lives Matter flag at Montpelier High School
Updated at 1:12 p.m.

Only the American and Vermont state flags could legally be flown on school grounds if a bill pending in the Vermont legislature becomes law.

Backed by eight House Republicans, H.92 seeks to keep school boards focused more on "educating kids" and less on debating "political agendas" such as that of the Black Lives Matter movement, said its sponsor, Rep. Brian Smith (R-Derby), who proposed a similar bill last year.

"Everybody, whether you’re Black or gay or Hispanic or white, we’re all Americans," Smith said in an interview. "We all live under one red, white and blue flag."

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Norwich University Lets Students Leave Amid 'Unsustainably High' COVID-19 Rate

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2021 at 5:28 PM

  • Sean Metcalf ©️ Seven Days
Norwich University will refund room and board for students who decide to leave campus after dozens of COVID-19 cases derailed the start of the spring semester.

In a video message posted Wednesday evening, President Mark Anarumo blamed the outbreak on "egregious and frankly embarrassing" behavior by students that led to "unreasonably and unsustainably high" levels of infection.

Effective immediately, Anarumo said, "I will support a voluntary departure of any student who does not believe they want to be here, whether because the value is not what they expected, or because they feel unsafe."

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

College Students Return to Vermont Amid Soaring COVID-19 Case Counts

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2021 at 5:03 PM

University of Vermont campus in Burlington - COURTESY OF SALLY MCCAY
  • Courtesy of Sally McCay
  • University of Vermont campus in Burlington

Updated 6:47 p.m.

Thousands of students are moving back into college residence halls around Vermont this week in the midst of a winter surge in the ongoing pandemic.

At many schools, the start of the spring semester will resemble the kickoff of the fall term nearly five months ago, with students undergoing a rigorous quarantine and testing process required by the state on their arrival.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vermont are more than 25 times higher than when students arrived at schools late in August. Back then, daily new case counts hovered around six. This week, they've averaged 160. And in some areas of the country where students live, the levels are much higher.

State and college officials alike are banking on the success of the virus mitigation strategies that kept levels of COVID-19 low on Vermont's campuses during the fall semester.

"We're hopeful," said Tracy Dolan, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health. "We still think what we're doing is probably the best thing that we can do."

Those measures include a mandated quarantine period for all students. Also mandated: testing for all students after the first seven days on campus.

Beyond that, said Gary Derr, the University of Vermont's vice president for operations and public safety, the on-campus strategy resembles the the fall's. Students will be reminded to wear facial coverings, wash their hands and maintain social distance.

And just as during the fall semester, UVM will continue mandatory weekly student testing. During the fall semester, the more than 150,000 tests at UVM revealed 99 cases among students and 19 cases among faculty and staff, according to weekly reports on the school's website.

Those numbers are expected to soar this semester, however.

"We're preparing to see more positives, just like the state is," said Derr.

During the two weeks ending January 17, 59 students tested positive — more than half the number of positive student tests during the entire fall semester. But those numbers, Derr noted, were reported after the holidays. State officials have confirmed that, based on their contact-tracing data, Christmas gatherings helped drive a surge in cases.

"I think what we're expecting and hoping for is that that [weekly case number] will start to drop," said Derr.

If students fail to show up for weekly testing, the penalties can be steep. The tests are mandated by the school's Green and Gold Promise, which lays out student conduct requirements during the pandemic. Students in "egregious" violation of the pledge may be fined $250 on their first offense, and suspended on the second.

A UVM spokesperson said the school fined 799 students for violations during the fall semester, and suspended nine.

Though many campus strategies will be the same this semester, one thing will look different: Because of the statewide ban on multi-household gatherings, schools must define what a "household" means on their campuses, and ask students to restrict non-academic gatherings to members of their "household."

That will look different from campus to campus, depending on how each school's housing is set up, explained Dolan. "We asked colleges to keep with the spirit of what we were trying to do with social gatherings," she said.

At a student town hall earlier this month, officials at St. Michael's College, which reported 79 cases during the fall semester — with dozens connected to a hockey-related outbreak in Montpelier — urged students to abide by the household restrictions. The school defines a household as either the residents of a townhouse, suite, or apartment, or, for those in single and double rooms, up to four people from the same wing of a residence hall.

Abiding by these rules is especially important as reports of a more contagious variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, continue to spread, said Mary Masson, director of student health services at St. Mike's. Though the variant has not yet been identified in Vermont, it's been reported just over the border in New York State.

"It tells us that we have to be all the more vigilant," said Masson.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Middlebury College Rescinds Rudy Giuliani's Honorary Degree

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2021 at 8:46 PM

Rudy Giuliani speaking to attendees at the Stop the Steal Rally last Wednesday - YOUTUBE/C-SPAN2
  • YouTube/C-SPAN2
  • Rudy Giuliani speaking to attendees at the Stop the Steal Rally last Wednesday
Middlebury College has made good on its threat to rescind the honorary doctor of laws degree that it conferred upon Rudy Giuliani in 2005.

On Sunday, the Middlebury Campus, the school newspaper, published an editorial urging the college to do just that. The writers noted that, in the wake of the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol building by extremists supporting President Donald Trump, two colleges had revoked honorary degrees previously given to Trump.

The paper also noted that Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, had addressed a Trump rally just hours before attendees headed to the Capitol, urging a "trial by combat" over the results of the 2020 presidential campaign.

College president Laurie Patton issued a statement Sunday calling the riot "an insurrection against democracy itself" and saying a decision on the degree would be made within days.

Tuesday evening, the college announced its decision using a method that the president has favored for years, up until his account was suspended: a tweet.

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