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Monday, September 17, 2018

Vermont Delegation Calls for Delay in Kavanaugh Vote

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 12:53 PM

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders
Updated at 5:48 p.m.

After a California professor alleged Sunday that Judge Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her when they both were teenagers, Vermont's congressional delegation urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to halt its consideration of his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

All three members — Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) — said the committee's planned Thursday vote on the nomination should be postponed until authorities could fully investigate the claims. In an interview with Seven Days on Monday afternoon, Leahy said that Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, should both testify before the committee, on which Leahy serves.

“She’s willing to testify under oath,” the senator said. “Let her!”

Details of the allegations have trickled out since the committee's ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), briefed fellow Democrats last Wednesday, but Blasey Ford’s identify was not known until Sunday, when she shared her story with the Washington Post. She said that at a party in suburban Maryland in the early 1980s, a drunken Kavanaugh had pinned her to a bed, groped her and attempted to remove her clothes.

“I find her allegations worth looking into professionally,” Leahy said in the interview. “I mean, she’s shown some very incredible courage even coming in here and we’re dealing with a nominee whose veracity is already an issue.”

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Burlington School Officials Seek to Quell Censorship Controversy

Posted By on Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 5:06 PM

The Register newspaper co-editor Julia Shannon-Grillo at Thursday's school board meeting - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • The Register newspaper co-editor Julia Shannon-Grillo at Thursday's school board meeting
The Burlington School Board and Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng on Saturday attempted to quell the controversy over censorship of the city high school's newspaper, saying that a new policy will be developed.

The board and Obeng announced that guidelines for material to be published in the Burlington High School Register are no longer in effect. Instead, the board and administration will develop a policy that is consistent with the free speech and student journalist protections under Vermont's New Voices law, the announcement said. 

It effectively scuttles a policy that BHS principal Noel Green conveyed Friday, after a dramatic week of  shifting decisions over coverage.

On Tuesday, Green ordered Register editors and their teacher-adviser to remove a story from the paper's website that detailed Vermont Education Agency allegations of unprofessional conduct against BHS guidance director Mario Macias. He denies the allegations.
After students and other critics called that censorship and a violation of the New Voices law, the principal announced Thursday that the article could be reposted. But just as free speech advocates began to cheer, Green issued a directive Friday that all editorial content in the Register was to be reviewed by him or other administrators 48 hours before publication. 

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Despite Controversy, Burlington Principal Plans to Vet Student Newspaper Stories

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 6:59 PM

The Register website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The Register website
Burlington High School principal Noel Green, whose censorship of a student newspaper led to a public outcry this week, has instituted a new policy that requires student journalists to submit articles for review 48 hours before publication.

The policy, issued two days after Green censored a story on the website of the Register, the school's newspaper, says that it is intended “to affirm support for the school newspaper, but also outline guidelines around how it functions.”

Seven Days obtained a copy of the new policy from the student journalists. It refers to Act 49, the Vermont law passed last year that was intended to prevent school administrators from censoring student journalists. But Green notes that there are six instances, such as libelous or slanderous information, that would be precluded from protection under the law, which is commonly referred to as New Voices.

“The only way school administrators can ensure that distributed material passes this litmus test, they must have the ability to view all material before it is printed,” Green wrote. “Thus, moving forward the BHS Register will re-continue the policy from 2016/17 which required material to be submitted to the administration 48 hours prior to publication.”

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Burlington School District Places Embattled Counselor on Leave

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 5:38 PM

Burlington High School - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Burlington High School
Updated on September 15, 2018.

The Burlington School District announced Friday that it will place guidance director Mario Macias on administrative leave pending the completion of a state investigation.

Following a yearlong inquiry, the Agency of Education cited Macias on September 7 with six counts of alleged professional misconduct. The Register, the high school's student newspaper, broke the news of the allegations on Monday. Principal Noel Green ordered the newspaper to remove the story Tuesday, but not before other local media outlets verified and reported on the allegations. Green later agreed to allow the students to repost their story.

At a school board meeting Thursday night, residents berated Superintendent Yaw Obeng and the board for the handling of allegations levied against Macias. The board went into executive session for more than an hour to discuss a "personnel issue."

The district released a statement about Macias' leave at 5:13 p.m. Friday.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Farrell Suspends Campaign Manager Over Ingram DUI Video

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 11:50 AM

Alex Farrell in South Burlington - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Alex Farrell in South Burlington
Vermont Senate candidate Alex Farrell, a Chittenden County Republican, suspended campaign manager Jeffrey Bartley on Thursday for condoning a video attacking a political rival.

The move came a day after Seven Days reported on Burlington Republican Party chair Paco DeFrancis' online criticism of Sen. Debbie Ingram's (D-Chittenden) 2017 drunk driving arrest. Farrell condemned the attack on Wednesday and said his campaign had had nothing to do with a video DeFrancis posted featuring footage of Ingram's arrest.

But later Wednesday, DeFrancis sent Seven Days screenshots of a text-message exchange he'd had with Bartley in July suggesting that the campaign manager had approved the video. (DeFrancis posted the screenshots to Twitter on Thursday morning but quickly deleted them.)

DeFrancis said in an interview Thursday that he'd understood Bartley's texts as a "go-ahead" to circulate the video. "I would've never posted it if I hadn't talked to him," DeFrancis said.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Censorship of Burlington School Newspaper May Have Violated Law

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 6:58 PM

The Register's website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The Register's website
Burlington High School principal Noel Green may have violated state law when he ordered student journalists to take down a story posted to the school newspaper’s website.

Monday night the Register broke the news that the state has been investigating school guidance director Mario Macias, who is accused of unprofessional conduct and could lose his educator's license for nearly a year.
By Tuesday morning, Green ordered the Register’s teacher adviser, Beth Fialko Casey, to pull the article. Fialko Casey conferred with the article’s four authors — editors Julia Shannon-Grillo, Halle Newman, Nataleigh Noble and Jenna Peterson — who reluctantly agreed to comply.

“It did cross our minds that they’d want to talk to us and we were ready to defend our actions but we were not expecting it to be censored,” said Shannon-Grillo, a 16-year-old junior. “We understand [Green’s] decision, but as editors, we don’t agree with it.”

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GOP Officials Attack Sen. Ingram Over Drunk Driving Arrest

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 2:37 PM

  • Sen. Debbie Ingram
Updated at 4:57 p.m.

The chair of the Burlington Republican Party bashed Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) on Twitter this week over a drunk driving arrest. The attack drew swift rebukes from other top GOP officials, including Gov. Phil Scott, who called it “unacceptable.”

Ingram crashed her car into a ditch in Williston less than a mile from her home in October 2017. The Burlington Free Press reported that Ingram’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.186 percent, more than double the 0.08 percent legal limit for driving.

Ingram released a statement shortly after her arrest in which she accepted responsibility for driving drunk.

“I am grateful that no one was injured as a result of my irresponsible behavior,” she wrote. “I suffer from a disease for which I have been getting treatment through a 12-step program.”

That, apparently, was not good enough for Burlington Republican Party chair Paco DeFrancis.

“If [Ingram] cared about her ‘disease’ and cared about others who may be using that public infrastructure then she should recognize that she is NOT capable of driving and should give up her car and license,” he tweeted Monday night.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Investigator: 'Unprofessional' Burlington High School Guidance Director Faked Transcript

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 6:34 PM

Burlington High School - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Burlington High School
After a yearlong investigation, the Vermont Agency of Education alleges that Burlington High School guidance director Mario Macias faked a transcript so a student could graduate, behaved unprofessionally with a college student who was substitute teaching and demonstrated incompetence by being unaware of the basic functions of the guidance department.

On September 7, the Agency cited Macias with six counts of alleged unprofessional conduct. He remains on the job and will have the right to respond to the allegations at a hearing to be scheduled within 60 days. Vermont Education Secretary Daniel French recommended that Macias' license be suspended for 364 days if the allegations are proven.

Macias did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Commission Discusses a Taxed-and-Regulated Cannabis Market for Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 7:16 PM

  • Luke Eastman
Officials in states that have legalized recreational cannabis think Vermont misstepped by not implementing a taxed-and-regulated market, Health Commissioner Mark Levine told a panel tasked with studying the issue.

He spoke Monday during a Statehouse meeting of the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission, which Gov. Phil Scott created by executive order in 2017 shortly after he vetoed a cannabis legalization measure. In January, Scott signed into law a bill that allows Vermonters to grow up to six plants at home and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It did not legalize the sale or distribution of cannabis.

The commission has continued its work, which one of its cochairs, Tom Little, said was to determine what a taxed-and-regulated system in the state should look like if the legislature chooses to create one. Its final report, due in December, will not include a recommendation as to whether Vermont should — or should not — create such a market, according to Little.

The eight other states that have legalized cannabis allow, or will allow, licensed stores to sell the drug. And Levine, as chair of the commission’s education and prevention subcommittee, said he’d heard from officials in Colorado and Washington state who thought Vermont’s half-measure was a mistake.

“They’re kind of saying, the home-grow route did not allow the degree of surveillance, the degree of monitoring, the degree of regulating that a different environment would have provided,” Levine said. “So their hopes were that we would learn from them and actually graduate from that to another structure.”

He added: "Their recommendation was: Go to tax and regulate."

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Authorities Say Investigating St. Joseph's Orphanage Abuse Won't Be Easy

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 2:42 PM

The former orphanage - NATALIE WILLIAMS
  • Natalie Williams
  • The former orphanage
Even as Vermont law enforcement officials announced Monday the formation of a task force to investigate claims of abuse at the long-shuttered St. Joseph's Catholic Orphanage, they acknowledged the challenges that it will face.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan suggested that the probe, prompted by a recent Buzzfeed story detailing decades of abuse suffered by children, could focus more on fact-finding than legal action. The story includes claims that children died at the hands of nuns.

Many of the victims and alleged perpetrators are dead or elderly, and the statutes of limitation have expired for many acts at the North Avenue orphanage, which closed in 1974.

"While there may be challenges given the current state of our laws ... there should be no challenge to bringing truth and reconciliation and closure and justice for victims," Donovan said. He added, "Justice doesn't always occur in a courtroom."

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