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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, July 30

Sidewalk chalk of a woman next to the words say her name and Breonna Taylor
Abagael Giles
On North Union Street, a message in sidewalk chalk calls for justice for Breonna Taylor on July 19. Police shot and killed Taylor in her Louisville, Kentucky home on March 13.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a budget deficit in the state college system and more for Thursday, July 30.

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The latest coronavirus data:


First COVID-19 death reported in six weeks

The state health department reported the first death from COVID-19 in over a month on Thursday.

A total of 57 people in Vermont have now died after contracting the coronavirus. Prior to today, the last reported death was on June 16.

The state reported just one new case of the disease Thursday, in Windsor County. One person is hospitalized. The health department has confirmed 1,407 cases of COVID-19 to date and has reported 1,207 people who have recovered.

- Henry Epp

Vermont State Colleges System facing $30M deficit

The head of the Vermont State Colleges says the system is still facing a budget deficit of about $30 million in this coming fiscal year despite millions of dollars in emergency funding, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a call with legislators Wednesday, Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said it's becoming apparent "that the impact of the virus can also extend and disrupt the spring semester."

A task force has been created by the board of trustees to come up with ways to stabilize and modernize the system. The end of in-person instruction and move to online learning amid the pandemic has taken a financial toll on the already struggling system.

- Associated Press

Six inmates return from Mississippi and test positive for COVID-19

Six inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to Vermont from Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, the private for-profit prison Vermont contracts in Mississippi.

The six inmates tested positive at Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland, where they are now in medical isolation.

While all staff and inmates in Vermont's facilities get tested for the virus regularly, the 200-plus housed in Mississippi can only be tested after displaying symptoms.

According to the Department of Corrections, one Vermonter in Mississippi tested positive earlier this week. That inmate, along with these six, lived in one of the two units occupied by Vermonters.

James Lyall, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont, says these positive cases were predictable.  

“We have been calling on DOC and the Scott administration to test all incarcerated Vermonters, including those incarcerated out of state, for months,” he said.

Now, officials at DOC say they are making efforts to test all Vermonters incarcerated in Mississippi.

Read the full story.

- Emily Corwin

Lawmakers hear from principle, teacher about concerns for fall

The head of the Vermont Principals Associations says school administrators are very concerned they may not have enough teachers and staff this fall.

Jay Nichols told the House Education Committee Thursday that child care is a huge issue as schools plan staggered schedules. That may mean the children of teachers are not in their own schools when their parents have to work.

“Principals are worried about having the staff to safely and effectively reopen for in-person instruction,” Nichols said. “That's a big worry, whether or not teachers are actually going to be there, and support staff.  Lot of it has to do with child care. If I've got a 2-year-old and 5-year-old at home, how can I teach if schools are not open for my 5-year-old kid to go to kindergarten, or whatever, in person.”  

More from VPR: Gov. Scott Seeks To Reassure Public On School Start, Delays Reopening To September

One special education teacher told lawmakers he wants to return to the classroom this fall, but he and his colleagues have grave concerns about the risk from the coronavirus.

Montpelier teacher Chris Guros says his remote instruction this spring was successful, with some of his students doing much better than he thought with online learning. Guros says he and his colleagues want to be back in the school building, but they are worried.

“All the teachers I talk to would rather be teaching in person,” he said. “But with the virus out of control nationally, the majority of teachers I speak with are scared. They're scared that it's not safe for them, or their students. And it's incredibly uncomfortable to feel that you're potentially putting your life on the line to do something, but there's so many unanswered questions with just a few weeks until school-wide in-service starts.”

Schools are scheduled to reopen Sept. 8. The committee also heard about school budget concerns, and logistical issues surrounding a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning.

- John Dillon

Former Rutland Herald owners file for bankruptcy

The former owners of the Rutland Herald have filed for bankruptcy.

The Herald Association, which sold the newspaper in 2016, still owns the paper's former downtown Rutland headquarters, as well as a warehouse and neighboring parking lot.

That property was slated to be developed into a hotel to help pay off nearly $900,000 of debt.

But Rob Mitchell, vice president of the Herald Association, says the COVID-19 pandemic killed the hotel project.

Mitchell, whose family ran the newspaper for decades, says bankruptcy was their last option.

"It has been difficult emotionally for my family, for employees at the Herald,” Mitchell said. “But ultimately, you know, I was talking to my dad about this a few weeks ago, and what's left in the Herald Association is just a building, and the Rutland Herald itself continues to publish, so that in itself is a success.”

Mitchell says another auction to sell the property will likely be held at some point later this year.

“My hope for Rutland, as it always has been, is to have something great go in there,” he said. “I just hope that this process moves along as quickly as it can in the coronavirus era and just allows the city to move forward on that property, because it's a prime spot.”

- Nina Keck

Two Rutland organizations merge

The boards of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce and the Rutland Economic Development Corporation announced Thursday they are joining forces.

The two organizations have been working together and talking about merging for years, but officials say the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic pushed them to act.

Lyle Jepson served as REDC’s executive director from 2016 to 2018, and now serves as director of career and technical teacher education at Vermont Technical College. He will return to lead the united organization beginning in September.

Jepson says bringing the expertise of REDC and the Chamber under one roof will better serve Rutland-area businesses.

“This provides a unity of effort and a unified voice for our region," Jepson said. "It also eliminates some of the duplication that was happening with the two organizations, and clearly more effectively utilizes the available financial resources that the two organizations have.”

The Chamber’s current director, Mary Cohen, was recently named executive director of the Housing Trust of Rutland County. She will become a board member of the new, merged organization, which will be named at a later date.

- Nina Keck

Former education secretary, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe advocates for better access to child care

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe says if elected, she'll push for better access to child care to address some of the growing health and economic inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holcombe is one of four Democrats seeking the party's nomination next month. She says child care workers should also be fairly compensated and have access to paid family leave.

"Which we know are essential both to their own health and well-being, and the health and well-being of their families, but frankly important for the critical health of all of us,” she said.

Holcombe is the former secretary of education. She resigned in 2018 over policy disagreements with Gov. Phil Scott.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress. You can find our full coverage of the 2020 Vermont primary, including debates, here.

Bennington officials approve "All Black Lives Matter" mural

Officials in the Vermont town of Bennington have approved the creation of a street mural reading "All Black Lives Matter" in front of the town offices.

The Bennington Banner reports that the select board voted unanimously on Monday to allow the mural by a local group of artists, advocates and other volunteers. Several residents said during the teleconference meeting that they opposed the idea or wanted action delayed to allow more public comment.

Black Lives Matter murals have been painted on main streets in Burlington and Montpelier following protests nationwide sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

- Associated Press

Wardsboro library employees resign over plans to open in-person

Three staff members of the Wardsboro library have resigned over plans to reopen the library in person.

In a social media post, library director Jill Dean – who is one of the three – says the staff members would have liked to stay with "curbside pickup" for safety reasons amid concerns about the coronavirus, but the library trustees wanted to have the library open.

Dean says she still loves the library and thanks the community for its support. She plans to continue with curbside pickup on Mondays and Thursdays until her last day, Aug. 3.

- Associated Press

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