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Thursday, October 5, 2017

UVM Student Cited in 'Racist and Threatening Language' Case

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 6:28 PM

The University of Vermont - SALLY MCCAY
  • Sally McCay
  • The University of Vermont
University of Vermont police cited student Wesley Richter on Thursday for disorderly conduct after he was allegedly overheard on campus using "explicitly racist and threatening language directed toward African Americans," the university said in a statement.

News of the citation came three days after a university administrator emailed the UVM community about the incident. Someone reportedly overheard Richter, 20, making the comments on a phone call. He also allegedly made disparaging remarks about UVM's diversity initiatives.

"Such detestable remarks and threats directed to any group or individual are antithetical to our values and commitment to work toward racial equality and greater inclusion," wrote Annie Stevens, a vice provost for student affairs.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

UVM Responds to Student Demands on Race, Diversity Issues

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 2:24 PM

The University of Vermont - SALLY MCCAY
  • Sally McCay
  • The University of Vermont
University of Vermont president Tom Sullivan and other top administrators resisted calls to expel the student who took down a Black Lives Matter flag — one of several demands made by students pressing the administration to address diversity issues.

"The student involved in the Black Lives Matter Flag theft was afforded a due process procedure and was sanctioned," the administrators said in a written response Friday to demands from the students. "The student cannot under law be charged or sanctioned again for the same incident that has been adjudicated."

Nor does Sullivan believe that the name of the late professor George Perkins should be removed from a building on campus — another of the students' demands.

Although George Perkins was the father of Henry Perkins, the UVM biology professor who directed the Vermont Eugenics Survey from 1925-1936, there is no evidence that the senior Perkins was involved in the eugenics program, Sullivan wrote.

The movement is "recognized now as dehumanizing, painful, and discriminatory," but "it would not be appropriate to remove Dean George Perkins’ name from Perkins Hall due to the actions of his son, Henry," the statement reads.

To strip his name from the building would be a mistake and could represent "guilt by association" and a return to the "regressive era of Senator Joseph McCarthy," according to Sullivan.

The president emailed the statement to the entire UVM community. It responded point by point to demands made by a group of students who marched to Sullivan's office in the Waterman building Monday and called for progress on a host of issues.

Sullivan met with some of the students Wednesday. The statement Friday morning was written by Sullivan and three other top administrators.

Last spring UVM student newspaper the Vermont Cynic broke the news that J.T. Reichhelm, an undergraduate at the school, had been quietly disciplined for taking down a Black Lives Matter flag flying next to the Davis Center. The incident last September upset many in the campus community. UVM authorities quickly learned who had taken the flag down but did not disclose who was responsible.

After the Cynic article, UVM leaders acknowledged that a student had been disciplined through the campus process, and that no criminal charges were pursued.

This week students said they considered the removal of the flag to be a hate crime.

"The University of Vermont once again showed students of color that our wellbeing means nothing and that we do not matter," their written demands state.

Sullivan's response seems to question the characterization of the incident as a hate crime.

"Hate Crimes are specifically defined by Vermont state law, determined by the State’s Attorney, and adjudicated through the court system," it reads. "It is important to note that under Vermont law hate crime is based upon a person’s intent/motivation and not on the impact of the crime. However, we are in full agreement that certain incidents have an injurious impact on members of our community, even if they do not meet the legal definition of a hate crime."

The statement also addressed many other demands, from increasing students and faculty of color to improving diversity education.

Harmony Edosomwan, one of the leaders of the student protest and the president of the UVM Black Student Union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The union Facebook page said a student forum on race issues would take place at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Livak Ballrooom at the Davis Center.

Read the students' demands and the response below:

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Vermont Teacher Fired for Demonstrating Nazi Salute to Third Graders

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 10:37 AM

  • File: Kim Scafuro
A Georgia Elementary & Middle School substitute teacher was fired Thursday after demonstrating the Nazi salute for a group of third grade students, according to a district official.

Franklin West Supervisory Union Superintendent Ned Kirsch wrote to parents Thursday night that the incident involved a "long-term substitute" interacting with students who were walking to the cafeteria.

"The children were standing with their arm out in front of them and the teacher was modeling the position," Kirsch wrote. "She then raised her arm slightly and said, 'And now we say, Heil Hitler.'"

"I'm at a loss on the whole thing," Kirsch told Seven Days on Friday. "People are shocked. People I've spoken to are at a loss for words." He declined to identify the teacher.

The teacher admitted she uttered the words and made the gesture, Kirsch wrote. She was "immediately relieved," Kirsch wrote, and will not return to the school of about 650 students.

She was subbing for a teacher on maternity leave who was scheduled to return on Monday, Kirsch said in an interview. The teacher had taught as a substitute at the school regularly for years and had not been the subject of any complaints, Kirsch said.

"It's not a pattern; [I] never had a report about her, nothing," Kirsch said. "No one can quite understand what happened."

The school's principal and a guidance counselor were scheduled to visit the class Friday morning, Kirsch wrote to parents.

"We are dedicated to ensuring a safe learning environment for our students and families," Kirsch wrote. "This incident was completely unacceptable and I apologize."

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Back to School: Striking Burlington Teachers Reach Agreement With Board

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 10:17 PM

Strikers picketing on Friday - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Strikers picketing on Friday
Burlington schoolchildren will be back in class Wednesday after the conclusion of the city's second-ever teachers' strike.

The Burlington Education Association and the Burlington School Board reached a tentative agreement Tuesday shortly before 8 p.m., ending a labor dispute that kept 3,600 students out of school for four days.

Many parents sighed with relief that the bitter dispute was over. The details of the agreement will not be public until the board and union ratify the terms. The union is set to vote on it Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the Burlington High School auditorium. The school board had not set a vote time Tuesday evening.

The last teachers' strike in Burlington was in 1978, according to the Vermont-National Education Association.

Joanna Grossman of Burlington's South End cheered the news that an eight-hour mediation session Tuesday resulted in a deal. Her daughter was set to return to her second-grade class at Champlain Elementary School.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Two GOP Legislators Renew Push to Ban Teachers' Strikes

Posted By on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 at 3:43 PM

Sen. Joe Benning speaks as Rep. Kurt Wright listens. - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Sen. Joe Benning speaks as Rep. Kurt Wright listens.
As the Burlington teachers' strike entered its third day on Monday, two lawmakers revived a proposal they said would provide a long-term fix.

Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) and Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) said they will introduce identical bills that would prohibit teachers from striking and prevent school boards from imposing contracts. The proposal would smooth negotiations and "eliminate the nuclear option on both sides," said Wright, who has long sought to ban teacher strikes.

In 2015, Wright introduced a similar bill that was defeated in the House by one vote. Last year, the bill didn't move out of committee.

This time around, Wright said, is different. The property tax pressures and health care contract negotiations facing school boards mean that strikes may be more likely.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Burlington Sports Teams Play On As Teacher Strike Continues

Posted By on Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 1:50 PM

Teachers picketing in front of Burlington High School Friday - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Teachers picketing in front of Burlington High School Friday
A teacher strike won't stop Burlington High School's homecoming weekend.

Though school was closed Thursday and Friday, administrators and the Burlington Education Association teachers' union agreed to allow sports teams to play, superintendent of schools Yaw Obeng said. Members of the boys' soccer team petitioned the adults to let the games go on, according to Obeng.

"The homecoming experience is once in a lifetime, " the superintendent told Seven Days on Friday. "This was something they wouldn't get back."

The appeal worked. Coaches who are not teachers will lead the teams.

On Friday, the cross-country team will run in a meet at Essex, while the school will host a boys' soccer game and the varsity football game against rival South Burlington. Field hockey, girls' soccer and volleyball will play on Saturday. All non-varsity games will be rescheduled, the school announced.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Burlington Teachers on Strike After Negotiations Fail

Posted By on Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 11:12 PM

Educators and their supporters making signs earlier this month - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Educators and their supporters making signs earlier this month
Update, September 14, 2017: Burlington schools will be closed again on Friday, September 15.

All Burlington public schools will be closed Thursday as 400 city teachers begin a strike.

The announcement came after the Burlington Education Association and the Burlington School Board negotiated for nine hours Wednesday in a final effort to avoid a strike.

The board said the union rejected a three-year contract that offered 2 percent raises each year for an average total raise of $6,000 during the life of the contract. The union said it compromised on some of its salary and health care requests, but not on schedule changes, particularly for elementary school teachers.

The labor dispute will put roughly 3,600 students out of school.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

UVM Medical Student Says DACA Gave Him a Chance to Chase Dream

Posted By on Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 9:45 PM

Juan Conde (in red tie), flanked by UVM president Tom Sullivan (left), Congressman Peter Welch (right) and fellow medical students - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • Juan Conde (in red tie), flanked by UVM president Tom Sullivan (left), Congressman Peter Welch (right) and fellow medical students
Juan Conde is fighting to keep his dream alive.

Flanked by University of Vermont president Tom Sullivan, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and fellow students at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, Conde on Monday spoke at a press conference about his experience as an undocumented immigrant.

Conde is among the 800,000 people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil after President Donald Trump last week rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The directive gives Congress a six-month window to decide on the fate of the DACA recipients, who are commonly known as Dreamers.

In a letter that Conde sent to Welch last week — and which has since been made public — the first-year med student urged the congressman and his colleagues to "come up with a legislative solution to this issue."

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Burlington Teachers Vote to Strike If Contract Battle Is Not Resolved

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 7:18 PM

Burlington teachers rallying for raises in the Edmunds Middle School cafeteria August 31 - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Burlington teachers rallying for raises in the Edmunds Middle School cafeteria August 31
Burlington teachers will go on strike Wednesday unless their contract battle with the city school board is resolved.

Teachers voted to strike Thursday afternoon. The move escalated the tension in a messy labor dispute and created uncertainty for parents of the city's 3,700 public school students.

“Moments ago, my fellow members and I voted to authorize a strike beginning on September 13 if the board fails to come back to the table and stay there until we reach an agreement for a contract covering this school year,” said Fran Brock, Burlington Education Association president, in a press release issued late Thursday afternoon.

Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher, lashed out at the board for imposing contract terms last Friday and also accused the board of neglecting student needs.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Commissioners Chosen for Teacher Health Insurance Study

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 1:40 PM

Vermont-National Education Association supporters in May protesting a plan to change how health benefits are negotiated - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: Terri Hallenbeck
  • Vermont-National Education Association supporters in May protesting a plan to change how health benefits are negotiated
A new commission charged with studying whether Vermont teachers should move to a statewide health insurance contract is taking shape.

Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday appointed David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration at Middlebury College, to chair the panel. Provost, a former senior vice president at Champlain College, serves as chair of the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) last week chose Barbara Griffin, a teacher at the Rivendell Interstate School District and a former Vershire school board member, as her appointee to the commission.

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) has appointed former state representative George Cross, a Democrat from Winooski and a former school superintendent.

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